Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hey, Mr. Nadella, I know you really didn’t mean it, but the karma route just plain doesn’t work.

I read with interest about the brouhaha the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella set off last week:

…when he told an audience of tech industry women they should trust they will get raises when they deserve them -- despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

"It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along," Nadella told a crowd at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, ReadWrite reported.

"That's good karma. It will come back," Nadella continued. "That's the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to."(Source: Huffington Post)

Well who wouldn’t want to give more responsibility to someone who’d take it on for nothing? That doesn’t make it right on either side: the non-giver, or the non-receiver.

I like to think that Grace Hopper – who I suspect was a plenty tough Commodore_Grace_M._Hopper,_USN_(covered)old gal – is snorting in her grave somewhere. (For those who don’t know who Hopper is, she was a mathematician and pioneering computer scientist who has both a Cray Supercomputer and a U.S. Navy Destroyer named after her.)

To his credit, Nadella apologized and admitted that he was wrong, and with a level of sincerity that went beyond the mealy-mouthed “I misspoke” and “I’m sorry if someone was offended by what I said” faux-apologies that are such the mode these days:

"Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap," Nadella wrote. "I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work ... If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

Here, Nadella gets is right.

For years, women have hung back in the workplace just waiting for their contributions to be recognized and rewarded. And then sitting there stewing when some guy who was likely less competent and definitely didn’t work as hard got tapped for the promotion, and scored the big raise. Having had a career in the technology business, I understand first hand how difficult it can be for women in such a male-dominated culture. And I also understand how women play right into it, letting ourselves take the wait for karma to kick in approach. Unfortunately, this  just plain won’t get you ahead in a world where the boys are all yelling “Pick me. Pick me. Pick me. I’m a good hitter. I can catch.” While the girls stand quietly on the sidelines, left for last pick, while wondering why, given that they know for a fact that they’re a better hitter, and better with the glove, than Mr. Pick Me will ever be.

I knew from the get-go that, in terms of getting a promotion, waiting for someone to recognize my worthiness was not going to cut it.

Pretty much every time I got a promotion, it was because I raised my hand and said I’d do something. Not that I had much competition in vying for what were mostly thankless tasks in companies that went nowhere. Still, as I clawed my way up to senior this and director that, it was mostly because I put myself in the position to say “I do.”

I worked for years at a small software company, apparently long enough to outlast everyone in my way and find myself on the management team as director of marketing. The others on the team – it almost goes without saying, all guys – were all VPs. I wanted to be a VP, too.

After waiting for “it” to happen, I decided to advocate for myself, making the case to the company president. And, as I made my case, making sure that I had the backing of all the guys on the management team.

Although I hated the way my promotion was announced – a story for another day – I did get the title. And no raise.

Now, I knew that I wasn’t going to make what the guys made. They actually had broader job scope and greater responsibility. But there was no way I was going to let a zero-based promotion to VP happen.

So I went back to the act-on-my-own-behalf well that I’d drawn from to get that vaunted VP title, and drew up another bucket of ego, resolve and ammunition.

I made my case – including data I got from headhunters – and got a 20% raise that put me at the sweet spot salary level I was looking for. Given that bonuses are tied to salaries, this turned out to be a very good thing.

I probably worked full time for another eight or nine years after I scored this raise, and, while I’ve never run the numbers, between salary and bonus this 20% raise probably earned me well over an additional quarter of a million bucks.

If I’d waited for karma to find its way to my desk, I would have been sitting there further down the food chain, making a lot less money, and making myself crazy wondering why all those jerks were deliberating on the future of our products, group, company while I was doing “real” work.

They say that karma’s a bitch, but that can’t be right.

If you’re expecting karma to eventually come to your rescue, you’ve really got to keep in mind that sometimes karma’s just a plain old garden variety a-hole.


While I was working on this post on Friday, I took an e-mail break, and there was a note from my friend Valerie, sending me a link to the Nadella story. Karma? You decide.

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