Why Satya Nadella’s Gender Comment Needs A Rethink

by Sohini Bagchi    Oct 13, 2014

gender gap

At a time when the IT industry is resonating Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to Lean In, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comment obviously added fuel to the fire when he said women shouldn’t ask for raises, and that, like karma, it would all even out in the end. With the furor caused by the statement, including on social media platforms, Nadella had no choice but retracted his statement terming it “inarticulate” and “completely wrong”.

However, the problem is not with Nadella per se, but in the mindset that’s operating in the IT industry, believe experts. According to Catalyst global research, there are considerable gender pay gaps within the tech sector as well as across other industry sectors. In India itself in the tech sector women and men start out as equals with equal pay and responsibility, and similar aspirations to the highest levels, including that of CEO. However, the gender gap emerges over time. Women lag behind men to about Rs 3.8 lakhs or $6,000 by the time they are 12 years into their careers, says the research firm. This is where intentional action and leadership come to play to root out these disparities within organizations.

 Read: For Women in IT, Gender Gap Leads To Stunted Career Growth

A Gartner report too reveals that despite female tech leaders showing similar or even better performance than men, especially when it comes to deploying digital strategies in their organizations, the percentage of women tech executives are very few and remained largely static since 2004.

“It is disappointing that the overall percentage of women in the role has not grown significantly in the last 10 years,” says VP and Gartner fellow, Tina Nunno. Take for example a specific domain like IT security, where there is an acute shortage of women workforce. Frost & Sullivan reports that women represent about 11% of the current IT security workforce.

Michael Suby, Senior Researcher at Frost & Sullivan mentions that the IT security industry requires more women workforce because the nature of work in this sector involves greater aligning their goals with business, improved communication skills and excelling at diverse tasks and these skills and attributes are most common in women professionals. Yet there is a shortage in the supply of women workforce.

“In today’s growing economy, with high job mobility and the corresponding high demand for talent, organizations must do everything they can to attract and retain women—who are amongst seen to be the most committed employees,” says Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC.

Women should also be encouraged and trained in digital technology, and more women engineers should be encouraged, ensuring pay equity, equal access to developmental opportunities, and flexible and inclusive environments to get more women in technology, believes Irde.

Unfortunately, once hired, women often face gender harassment, discrimination in the tech workplace, and significantly lower pay. Researcher Ashe Dryden found that of women in tech who reported sexual harassment, 23 out of 25 said they were fired within three months of reporting the incident. Moreover, 56 percent of women in tech leave the industry within the first 10 years of their career.

Recent diversity reports from tech giants including Twitter, Yahoo, and Google have affirmed the industry’s stereotypes, highlighting that the vast majority of employees are white men — even in non-tech jobs. Moreover, women applying for tech jobs are often dissuaded by tech companies because it’s assumed they aren’t qualified or don’t “fit” the culture.

For instance, at Facebook, women make up 31% of the workforce. Yahoo has 37% of women in its total workforce with over 12000 employees and Google too has over 30% women in its workforce. But the problem remains that most women are hired in non-technology roles and few of them reach the board level. For instance, only 15% of women employees at Facebook and Yahoo work in the tech space and 17% in Google do the same. TCS which has over 33% of women workforce also has no woman board member. In several other firms the numbers are negligible.

Read: Seven Most Powerful Women In Tech

Experts believe the key to progress is changing the mindset through the ranks and making managers at every level more sensitive to, and better equipped to deal with and recognize ‘gap’ in the workplace. But they also point out the gap has already become so wide that it may not change overnight.

Unless leaders like Nadella rethink “karma” and deal with the gender gap profoundly, such gaps will continue to widen, as tech analyst Cate Huston points out in her blog, “I don’t think things are going to change anytime soon… it is going to be very gradual, the attrition numbers are going to drop very slowly — if at all — and a lot of talented and hardworking women are not going to survive the industry long enough to see that change in person.”