More women are working in Silicon Valley, showing that the tech industry has made progress that is “good, but not sufficient,” Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, said Tuesday.
“We always had equal pay for equal work, but it’s more about equal opportunity for equal work,” Mr Nadella said at a TimesTalks event hosted by The New York Times. “In tech, we do have a significant distance to cover.”
Mr Nadella’s remarks — at a time when Silicon Valley is riled by allegations of a pervasive culture of sexism at companies such as Google, Uber and SoFi — came from personal experience.
Mr Nadella, the third chief executive in Microsoft’s 42-year history, has had to deal with the backlash of a misstep on gender issues.
In 2014, shortly after taking over the chief executive position, he suggested at a conference that women should not push for pay raises and instead wait to be recognised for their work. He soon apologised. On Tuesday, he said that opinion had been “completely nonsensical” and reflected how little he actually understood the issue.
“I was answering a question literally using my own personal experience without understanding the broader context of the question, which frankly is unacceptable,” he said. “My job is about creating a system that allows women to participate, to feel free to ask for a raise, to expect to be recognised for their progress — I had not internalised how the system was not working.”
Mr Nadella, who joined Microsoft in 1992, touched on a range of topics during the talk in Manhattan, discussing privacy, gaming, immigration and the effect of artificial intelligence on jobs.
Mr Nadella said that immigrants — and not just those with highly valued skills — help improve competition. He said he himself had benefited from “enlightened” immigration policy that allowed him to study and work in the United States.
“That’s what makes America exceptional, both being the place where the talent comes and also being the beacon of hope for the people who need hope,” said Mr Nadella, who early in his employment at Microsoft had given up his green card for a temporary H-1B work visa that allowed him to bring his wife, Anu, to the United States from India.
Like many tech companies, Microsoft has voiced opposition to President Donald Trump’s decision to begin rolling back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy. Microsoft said it would cover the legal costs for any worker threatened with deportation.
Mr Nadella also addressed a series of business flops — including a disastrous acquisition of phone maker Nokia and Microsoft’s late start in development of cloud computing services — that pushed it out of the top tier of white-hot tech companies like Facebook, Apple and Google.
But recently, Microsoft has regained traction, making some of the most innovative personal computers in the industry, experimenting with artificial intelligence and augmented reality and testing autonomous vehicles. Microsoft’s share price has more than doubled during Mr Nadella’s tenure as chief executive.
But there is still room to grow. Revenue from Microsoft’s Azure cloud service soared 97 per cent in its fourth quarter, but the business still lags behind the offering of its nearby rival, Amazon.
Mr Nadella said that companies cannot expect to “hit every trend or catch every wave,” noting that Microsoft has faced “a new existential threat” every five years throughout its history. He said that while “zero sum competition” exists in the industry, he also values partnerships.
Amazon and Microsoft, based a short drive apart in Washington State, compete for both talent and business. But the two companies recently paired up to integrate Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant with its Microsoft counterpart Cortana.
“I do not view it primarily through a competitive lens — technology today is much more pervasive, and the top five companies by market cap are all very different,” he said. “The worst mistake I can make is to assume that we should do what they’re doing and not be true to our identity.”
Mr Nadella is promoting his new autobiography, “Hit Refresh,” which went on sale Tuesday.
© 2017 New York Times