THE BLOG
10/13/2014 04:20 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Satya Nadella, For Telling Us What You Really Think

This week Satya Nadella, Microsoft's chief executive, shared what he really thought about gender equality, saying that women shouldn't ask for raises.

Instead, Nadella suggested, women should have "faith in the system" and rely on "karma" to get equal pay for equal work. The not-so-subtle message was that if women worked hard, then wage inequality wouldn't exist. This advice might be logical if women weren't already working hard, if our country had a system with a level playing field where people were judged fairly, and if rampant wage inequality wasn't already the norm.

He said:

"It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith the system would actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that I think that might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don't ask for a raise have. Because that's good karma, it will come back. Because somebody's going to know, that's the kind of person that I want to trust; that's the kind of person I want to really give more responsibility to."

Well, women must have a lot of good karma in reserve because we've been working hard and don't yet have equal pay.

Women are still waiting for that karma cash.

Let's take a step back. Nadella's not alone in erroneously thinking that the current system is fair. We have a widespread problem in our nation: On average women are still paid only 78 cents to every dollar that men earn for full-time year round work, with mothers and women of color experiencing the most extreme wage hits. (In fact being a mom is now a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman. More than 80 percent of women have children at some point in their lives in our nation, so the vast majority of women are experiencing multiple wage hits -- and there is still rampant wage discrimination in our nation).

Microsoft isn't exempt from wage gaps and hiring bias. In fact, the Seattle-area, where Microsoft is headquartered and is a leading employer, has the biggest wage gaps in the nation: Women in the Seattle area paid just 73 cents to a man's dollar. Further, Microsoft has long struggled with gender parity, and even now, women comprise only 29 percent of Microsoft's global workforce. (This is despite the fact that elite schools like Berkeley, where women now outnumber men in one of the school's introduction to computer science courses, have seen a rapid rise in women completing computer science courses.)

Many myths are floating around that need busting. For instance, the wage gap isn't primarily women's fault for taking lesser jobs as some have insinuated. In fact, wage differences within the same occupation make up most of the pay gap between men and women. Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University, calculated that after controlling for age, race, hours and education, women who are doctors and surgeons, for example, earn 71 percent of men's wages; women who are financial specialists make just 66 percent of what male financial specialists earn.

The Glass Ceiling is alive and well in America. Despite the fact that 56 percent of college graduates are now women, and women now comprise 50 percent of the labor force, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

Karma alone, as Nadella suggests, isn't going to break through the Glass Ceiling. Equal pay protections are needed for women; and leaders must also be trained to recognize their own biases. One of those biases is that studies show when women ask for raises, it can backfire, with women seen as overly aggressive whereas men are seen as being fiscally responsible.

Even Nadalla's apology falls into that bias trap as he said: "I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work... if you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

Every executive needs to ask her or himself: Would I be asking these questions or having these doubts if the employee or job candidate were a man instead of a woman, or a father instead of a mother? Every executive needs to take a deep look in his or her subconscious, figure out what they really think about women in the labor force, and then check their preconceptions against current facts.

After all, when CEOs, managers, and business leaders don't examine what they really think, the status quo of unequal pay continues into the future swept under the carpet, closed in a dark closet, unchecked.

To be sure, it's time to put a check on the rampant unfair pay in our nation. It should be noted that there was one item Nadella had correct: Women do have "super powers."

Women are 53 percent of the electorate, 50 percent of the labor force, and represent three-quarters of the people making purchasing decisions in our consumer-fueled economy. Women most definitely have power. It's time to use that super power to buy from companies that support equal pay, to vote for leaders who stand up for women, and to fight for equal pay protections for all

After all, we all lose out when women don't get equal pay for equal work. In fact, when women don't have funds to spend at local stores and in our communities, then our consumer-fueled economy suffers -- and studies also show that the more women there are in corporate leadership, the higher the corporate profits.

So thank you, Mr. Satya Nadella, for telling us what you really think, putting your foot in your mouth, and shining a bright light on the wage inequality that women face across our nation. It's past time for wage inequality to come out of the closet and be addressed front and center.