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Nadella gaffe revives debate on gender pay gap

world Updated: Oct 11, 2014 23:07 IST
Yashwant Raj and Manu Toms

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s advise to women to not ask for a raise and leave it to 'faith', 'the system' and 'karma', has re-ignited debate about the industry’s gender bias.

Studies have shown significant disparities in pay and career prospects based on gender in IT companies, apart from the existence of all other workplace issues.

HCL associate VP Srimathi Shivashankar said men and women start their careers at the same salary levels. Citing a Harvard study, she added that women lag behind in terms of negotiation and networking skills. Poor negotiation leads to wage disparity. “When women go on maternity leave they miss some months or years, which might cause a wage difference,” she said.

In India, women make up about 30% of the workforce at the Big 4 IT cos — TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL. None of them have any plans to review procedures following Nadella’s comments.

“What is important is that women have a forum to discuss their problems,” said HCL’s Shivashankar. “At HCL, we do.”

“TCS is an equal opportunity employer,” a company spokesperson said. Women employees recently crossed the 100,000 mark.

Here is how this round started. “It’s not really about asking for a raise but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” said Nadella. “It’s good karma. It will come back.”

The backlash was instantaneous and unrelenting. The India-born CEO quickly recanted in a tweet followed by an internal mail to Microsoft employees. Privately, he has told people, he gave a “wrong and terrible answer”.

As the debate raged, questions were also raised about Nadella’s own personal position on the issue.

“I believe Satya is as supportive of women as I am,” said Vivek Wadhwa, author and Silicon Valley academic, adding, “I know this will make him much more sensitive to the problems that women face.”

Wadhwa was engaged in a bitter spat with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in 2013 over the absence of women in the company’s board. Twitter named its first woman director shortly thereafter.