Women in technology: a response to Satya Nadella

‘Women in tech’ is a sexy topic in current media. The same questions emerge time and time again as to what can be done to break the barriers for women trying to make their way in the densely dominated male industry. Everyone seems to be an advocate for women working in technology and engineering roles.

This week at the Anita Borg Institute Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, guest speaker Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft made a bold statement which stirred uproar among women in technology and by extension all industries.

In an interview with Maria Klawe, Microsoft board member Nadella was quizzed about advice to women seeking a pay rise. He said: “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise as you go along.” Nadella continued to dig himself into the proverbial hole by claiming that women who remain modest and patient will ultimately be rewarded as it demonstrates “good Karma”.

The irony of Nadella’s statement in context is entirely humorous given that women account for a mere 29% of Microsoft’s international employees. Nadella was one of two male guest speakers invited to the conference in a bid to “engage both female and male leaders, many of whom are well intended”. So what does Nadella’s statement tell us about the technology industry?

Firstly it reaffirms why the tech sector is continuously under scrutiny for lack of diversity. Research conducted by e-skills this year revealed that by 2013 less than 16% of tech specialists working in the UK were women. Most disappointingly, female representation in technology industries is lower in the UK than across all 15 EU nations. Whilst the issue has major media prominence there appears to be very little movement within the industry itself. Who is responsible for implementing change?

Change will only be seen when it is executed at grassroots level. Businesses need to stop waiting for solutions to come from some bigger third party and take action today. Companies across the globe know what steps to make without waiting for government guidelines.

However, all faith is not lost. This week Facebook, Pinterest and cloud storage brand Box announced the launch of pilot programme WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech). The programme is a one-to-one mentorship scheme created to help women trying to start a career in the tech industry. Though WEST is undoubtedly a big step forward, the social media giants have a long way to go to address the stark 70:30 male to female ratio within their global work force.

Eloise Bloniarz, Expert Market’s in-house tech project manager, said: “The comments from Nadella represent a lot of backwards thinking in the tech world. Luckily the team at Expert Market has a fantastic representation of women, but in general the sector needs a huge rethink about addressing the imbalance.”

Victoria Elizabeth from Expert Market’s SEO team added: “We have seen a hugely positive impact from ensuring greater balance within the team as men and women bring entirely different qualities and tactics to the working environment. Our company deals directly with new businesses so it is important that any industry dialogue includes both men and women.”

Nadella’s invitation to speak at the conference was a first for 2014 and though he made a public apology for being ‘inarticulate’, we can’t help but wonder whether his invitation for next year will get misplaced in the post.

*Jessica Laporte writes about women in business for Expert Market.


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