Regarding Microsoft’s CEO Remarks: First Ask, “What do I Want?”

Last week, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella made headlines for suggesting that women who do not ask for more money from their employers would be rewarded in the long run when their good work was recognized.  

I could not disagree more. 

I do not believe the gender wage gaps would be as great as cited in this article if that were the case. At a more personal level, this does not resonate with my own experience.

I grew up receiving these same not-so-subtle messages, mostly from my well-intentioned father. “If you work hard, and do a good job, you will be recognized,” he said. But in my father’s defense, he also said something equally as important. “If you leave an employer because you are not getting what you want, and that becomes a surprise to your employer, you are as guilty as the employer in creating the situation that causes you to leave.”

Well, I left a few jobs because I was not getting what I wanted. I was not getting the roles and advancement I wanted. More importantly, I was not being recognized in those jobs in the way I wanted for what I was achieving. And that went beyond compensation. I kept getting more work and assignments, but no public recognition from my bosses for what I was achieving. Did I say anything about what I was not getting? No. Why was that? I had received those subtle messages that asking was in appropriate, that the system was fair and would take care of me. I had no role models for people who were asking. If men were asking, I did not know about it. And even if I had thought it was OK to ask for something, I had no clue HOW to go about it. There were few mentors I felt comfortable asking. I was not able to fully reconcile the 2 messages from my father, nor my role in creating the circumstances that led to my leaving the jobs until I met a man who was a true marketing genius. He taught me that it takes equal parts of quality production (my father’s first message) and marketing (my father’s second message) to make a successful business. This is true for careers as well. It is up to each of us to market or sell ourselves, our accomplishments, and ask for the right pay, recognition, and opportunities in return.

My role: I was not marketing my successes. I was not asking for what I wanted in return.

So why was this so hard for me? For one thing, I had to get clear about what I wanted and needed. Once I got truly in touch with what made me Happy, Successful, and equally as important, made me feel Understood, I was better able to articulate what I wanted. I learned that compensation was one measure of how I felt appreciation, but there were others that were equally as important, like public recognition and ‘thank yous.’ Once I got clear and could articulate it, I then had to open my mouth and say something.  This was much harder for 2 reasons:

  1. It violated my father’s first message and the subtle messages I had gotten all along about what “good girls” did. This has and is taking a lot of practice to get over.
  2. I am not naturally inclined to this kind of persuasion work. My interests and strengths do not make it easy for me to do this.

So, what to do? This is why I recommend engaging a trusted companion as a coach.  Throughout my Know Thyself Guides® I suggest that individuals role play and practice situations like this. Even experienced negotiators and skilled sales and marketing individuals practice and role-play critical negotiations and sales calls before they occur. So someone, like me, who is trying to overcome years of bias messages (like good girls do not do this) and is not naturally skilled at this kind of interaction, must practice even more. In situations like this, it is important to engage a coach who is naturally skilled in these areas. They are often easy to spot.  But another idea is to engage a more senior executive who seems to have been able to address this for him or herself. I have found they are often willing to listen, role play, and offer suggestions. Yes, I think women often have to work harder at this than men do. The coaches and mentors are not as available. We have to ask for that, too. And I do not think I am the only one who got the message that good girls do not ask for pay. This is a subtle bias that still exists in the workplace. But women have a role in changing that as well, by understanding what they want and need and then asking for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *