Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Makes Diversity and Inclusion Top Priority

When it comes to what the women working at Microsoft have to say about gender disparity, CEO Satya Nadella has much to say. He met with female employees earlier this month to discuss what had been said in an email chain alleging discrimination and harassment within the organization. What had originally started as one woman’s email query about being promoted within an organization she felt was biased against her gender became something quite different as more people responded to the chain.

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“I’m disappointed to hear about any behavior in our workplace that falls short of the diverse and inclusive culture we are striving to create. But I’m encouraged that people feel empowered to speak up and demand change. I want all of us to learn and act on this feedback,” Nadella wrote in a company-wide email. “I appreciate that leadership in this area needs to start at the top. It also must involve deeds and not just words. As a Senior Leadership Team, we’ve sought to exercise our growth mindset, listening and learning from the ongoing feedback and using this learning to take new steps.”

Some of the participants had grievances that their careers had hit the glass ceiling while others shared experiences about harassment and assault. One female employee reported that while she was on a business trip several years ago, an employee with a partner company had threatened her life if she did not perform a specific sexual act with him. The worker was able to get away but when she reported the incident to human resources, she was told by her male manager that it sounded like the individual was just flirting. Her manager told her that if she was unable to fulfill her responsibilities, she would be given sixty days to find a new role or be laid off. The female employee moved over to operations.

Another author of the email string talked about being invited to sit on someone’s lap twice while at a business meeting with executives and human resources present. According to the author’s account of events, nobody supported her when she raised the issue at the meeting. Later, the male coworker was promoted while she had been reprimanded for not following policy.

Microsoft’s CEO hosted an in-person Q&A following Human Resources Head Kathleen Hogan bringing these concerns forward to the senior leadership team. Approximately 150 female employees attended the meeting while others attended via a livestream link. The meeting was also followed up with an email promising greater transparency around advancement within the software company’s ranks. Nadella wrote that the human resources team will “focus exclusively on assisting employees going through a workplace investigation, including helping employees going through a workplace investigation, including helping employees understand the process, guiding them through investigations and following up after investigations are finished to check in on the employees involved.”

But not everyone is convinced that diversity is the panacea for Microsoft’s problems. Championing what she believes are the 21st century’s new underdog, a female manager posted her own magnum opus on Yammer, the company’s internal message board, about Asian and white men being excluded from important opportunities. The unnamed employee pointed out that hiring managers are being rewarded for finding candidates that fit the tech giant’s diversity initiative. “Many women simply aren’t cut out for the corporate rat race, so to speak, and that’s not because of ‘the patriarchy’, it’s because men and women aren’t identical,” she said. She further asserted that it’s an established fact that “specific types of thought process and problem solving required for engineering of all kinds are simply less prevalent among women.”

Regardless of these opposing arguments, Microsoft is going in a different direction. Nadella isn’t afraid to admit that deviating from the company’s corporate values on diversity and inclusion could have an…effect. “If you are not helping to create an inclusive culture, your rewards, your career trajectory and possibly even your employment will be impacted,” he said.