Last week, after Satya made his disastrous, albeit insightful (into his thought process, anyway) comments at the Grace Hopper Convention, I had several folks reach out to ask for my opinion on the topic. Initially, I demurred, saying that everything worth saying would likely be said once Twitter was done with him, not to mention the New York Times, Time, Business Week, Forbes, TechCrunch, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and every other news outlet with a business desk.
But then I thought- am I playing into the stereotype by letting others speak for me? After all, I believe in speaking up! I believe in asking for what you want! I believe in asking for stretch assignments! I believe in being vulnerable and seeing what happens! I believe in taking risks!
My approach has worked… over the long run. I guess you could call that karma…. but it’s the kind of karma that has a lot of elbow grease behind it. Not to mention, that I have taken some pretty good sized hits because of it too. But getting back up has a virtue all it’s own. Just ask Michael Jordan.
I’d liken my relationship to karma to that famous quote by Jack Nicklaus, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Turns out- the more I speak up, the more ALL women speak up, the more likely we’ll be listened to. So, in that spirit, I will share my thoughts on #karmagate.
I was disappointed though not surprised by Satya’s comments because I think they are a reflection of his reality up to this point in his career. I certainly wish that “karma” worked as well as Satya believes (believed?) that it does! Unfortunately, history has shown that relying on karma is not a sufficiently robust “tool” for the management of one’s career- particularly if you are a woman, person of color, or an older job seeker.
My hope is that Satya’s comments and the subsequent firestorm cause him to reflect upon the unconscious bias and assumptions that have underpinned his views. In fact, I’d love to see him push his entire leadership team to reflect upon and uncover the unconscious/unintended biases that may drive their views and decisions. I hope with some study of the issue and a broader set of inputs- he’ll emerge from this as a more proactive advocate for change within Microsoft and the industry. As Nilofer Merchant said in her piece for Time, by putting the onus on “the industry,” he is distancing himself and Microsoft from taking a leadership role in fixing this problem. I’d like to see him commit to putting Microsoft front and center in the drive for gender equity in the workplace.
His biggest takeaway from this experience may be that bias is a sneaky adversary. You may think you are taking a very clear-eyed view of an issue, only to get smacked in the face with a Mack truck of unconscious bias. I hope he dedicates himself to watching for bias in his views and pushes his team to do the same. He made a strong first step by admitting fault (though his carefully worded response was a little protectionist).
One of my favorite sayings is “It’s not the mistakes we make that people remember, but how we recover from them.” So, here is his chance to make a memorable recovery. A single step doesn’t note make a journey, and we will all see where this leads him.
The other thing I think is interesting out of this debacle is how Satya’s comments (and that view about speaking up generally) intersect with other women’s/gender issues. In my blog post on Emma Watson’s speech at the UN, I took issue with what I thought was her overly conciliatory language. She “invites” men to join us in the quest for gender equity. “Invite” is about as passive and subordinate an action verb you can find. As much as I admired her making the speech at all, it left me wanting more.
In the business world, there is definitely a strong undercurrent that pushes women to minimize the use of strong (often code-worded as “inflammatory”) language. I have many times been asked to “tone it down”. And yes, it feels patronizing every time I hear it. The worst part about it though, is that statements like that are a subtle thief of an individual’s power because they take it away by degrees rather than all at once.
Satya’s gaffe has held up an important mirror that we can all reflect in. What biases are we unknowingly incorporating into the way each of us talks, thinks, and views the world?
I appreciate your comments, shares, and feedback! Tell me what YOU think!