Computing Profession

Satya Nadella and Grace Hopper

Valerie Barr

I’ve just come home from the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Amazingly, I have now attended 13 of the 14 GHCs that have taken place, including the very first one in 1994.   The conference was huge this year!  There were 8,000 attendees, over 2,800 students from 441 schools, and attendees from 67 countries.  The exhibition hall was a beehive of activity and I am happy to report that we had a lot of traffic at the joint ACM/ACM-W/ACM CCECC/CSTA booth, making lots of great contacts amongst our various constituencies.

Of course, there has been a lot of commentary online about the remarks made by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.  In case you missed it, in response to a question asked by Maria Klawe (president of Harvey Mudd College and member of Microsoft’s Board of directors), Nadella said that women should not ask for pay raises (in truth, he said nobody should ask for raises, but Maria’s question was specifically about women).  He said he trusted in the review system, and that if someone’s work is good it would eventually be rewarded.  As you can imagine, the conference and the web lit up, followed soon thereafter by all other forms of media as well. 

Here are my thoughts on this matter:

  1. As a result of the ruckus, the Grace Hopper Celebration and the situation for women in computing got more press and more visibility than ever before.  That’s a very good outcome.

  2. The situation provided a great opportunity for people to talk about the fact that meritocracy does not work when there is implicit bias.  Nadella may think that the Microsoft review process is fair and unbiased, but given that women in tech in the U.S. earn only $0.86 for every $1.00 earned by men, he should seriously research what the actual numbers are for Microsoft, and then adjust salaries accordingly.

  3. This incident provided a very valuable lesson for the students at the conference.  The companies recruiting at Hopper are trying very hard to improve their diversity statistics.  The conference gives them access to a lot of women job candidates, and they treat the students very well (fancy swag, food, private events, interview booths, raffles, etc.).  It would be easy for the students to be deluded into thinking that everything is great now in the tech world and women are always well treated.  Nadella’s comments serve as a reminder that women entering the field still have to be prepared to advocate for themselves when they negotiate starting salaries and subsequent raises.

4.     I don’t doubt for a minute that Nadella, along with many other tech CEOs right now, considers himself a strong advocate for women in computing.  He is noteworthy for being the first tech CEO of that level to come to Hopper, and he spent a lot of time there.  He still has some things to learn, as do many people in this field.  As we know, there are many hearts and minds that need to be changed, and even some of our best allies have a lot to learn.  

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