BUSINESS
10/10/2014 02:27 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2014

Telling Women To 'Just Ask' For A Raise Is Just Terrible Advice

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Karma isn't going to get women better pay, but a little information might.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella caused a firestorm on Thursday when he said that the key to women getting paid more is not asking for a raise, but relying on good karma. Almost immediately realizing his wrongness, Nadella apologized and wrote to employees that, of course, "If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

But it's not really that simple: Women are often more reluctant to ask for raises or promotions than men are, contributing to the gender pay gap. If Nadella really wants to help women make it to the top of the corporate ladder and achieve pay equality -- and he probably should, given that women are an embarrassingly small minority of workers his company -- he could look to fellow tech giant Google for advice on what to do.

Years ago, Google tried an experiment to get more women to apply for promotions within the company. It found that women were more likely to get ahead if they were given a simple nudge, the Washington Post reported earlier this year.

That nudge was a straightforward email reminding employees to apply for promotions, while also mentioning that women are less likely to sell themselves than men. The email cited two studies, one finding that girls are less likely to raise their hands than boys to answer a math question, and the other finding that men are more likely to offer ideas in business meetings.

The nudge worked: Soon after sending the email, Google saw more women apply for and receive promotions.

There's a ton more research out there about why women are less likely to "just ask" for a raise. Simply put, women are socialized to be more humble than men. A recent study showed women are less likely to brag about their accomplishments at work, which makes it harder for them to sell themselves when they think they deserve higher pay.

Even with its nudge, Google hasn't totally solved its gender problems. Women still only represent 30 percent of all employees at the company. That's roughly the same percentage as Microsoft. But Google has found a way to get women to break down gender barriers and help themselves get ahead.

The bottom line is that Nadella's "you should just ask" advice falls short. And if companies like Microsoft want women to succeed, they have to stop saying that.

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