The head of tech giant Microsoft has apologized over remarks in which he suggested that women should not ask for a pay raise and instead rely on "good karma" and trust that they would be remunerated fairly under the system.
Satya Nadella, who became CEO of the company in February, was blasted on Twitter and in blog posts for his comments, which were made Thursday at an event at an event in Phoenix, Arizona intended to celebrate women in computing.
Asked for his advice to women who are uncomfortable requesting a raise, Nadella responsed: "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." Not asking for raise, he added, is "good karma" that would help a boss realize that the employee could be trusted and should have more responsibility.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and a member of Microsoft's board, immediately challenged Nadella, saying his viewpoint was "one of the very few things that I disagree with you on," eliciting a few cheers from the audience. She suggested women do their homework on salary information and first practice asking with people they trust.
The two went on to hug on stage, and the audience warmly applauded, but his comments caused uproar on Twitter.
“Is @Microsoft CEO @SatyaNadella really this stupid about gender pay inequality? Trust Karma? WTF?” tweeted JC Camargo.
“Karma doesn't pay the bills,” wrote Lucy P. Marcus.
“Short of 'no pay gap exists', I can't think of a worse thing you could believe. Or say,” tweeted user @daveidfx.
Microsoft posted a memo from Nadella on its website later Thursday in which the CEO said he answered the question "completely wrong." He said he thinks "men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it's deserved, Maria's advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."
But his comments at the event, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, underscored why many see technology companies as workplaces that are difficult to navigate or even unfriendly for women and minorities. White or Asian men overwhelmingly dominate tech companies, particularly the engineering ranks. And beyond the tech industry, women are typically paid less than men.
Criticized for their lack of diversity, major companies say they are trying to address the problem with programs such as employee training sessions and by participating in initiatives meant to introduce girls to coding.
Twenty-nine percent of Microsoft's more than 100,000 employees are women, according to figures the Washington-based company released earlier this month. Its technical and engineering staff and its management are just 17 percent female.
That's roughly comparable to diversity data released by other big tech companies this year.
According to recent research by the American Association of University Women, last year women were paid 78 percent of what equally qualified men received, although there is some data to suggest the pay gap is less in the tech sector.
"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 in his memo to employees.
Al Jazeera and wire services