Wonder Woman To Nadella: Real Superwomen Don’t Sit Quietly

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.

You’ve heard by now about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments at a recent conference, in essence, that women should have faith that their bosses will give them the raises they deserve. It’s good karma, he continued, because not asking for a raise makes a woman more trustworthy and likable to her superiors. In other words, be a good girl and rewards will come.

The sound of screeching brakes was heard ‘round the Internet, in response to which Nadella reversed course and moved on.  So why drag it up again?

Because: It’s about more than what happened that day or what was said by that one man. This is an opportunity to remind women that you don’t create, generate, or leverage power by sitting quietly. And we should never be done talking about that.

The fact that another influential man in a high-growth industry not only thought this way, but feels it is perfectly acceptable to express the sentiment, makes this clear—because Nadella casually but accurately captured what many more men think, and this thinking drives their behavior.

And, in fact, it isn’t acceptable. Are we trying to get more women into leadership positions in key growth industries, or not?

It is just this kind of head-in-the-sand thinking that is typical of legacy businesses and people trying to hold on to the status quo. It tells women to be patient, don’t be pushy, wait your turn, be happy for what you’ve got, and you’ll be, in Nadella’s words, a “superwoman.” But does that sound like a superhero to you? Sitting around waiting for recognition, a raise, good karma to kick in? Note to Nadella: being that superwoman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A better model is Wonder Woman – protector of truth, peace, justice and sexual equality.

Nadella’s comment, I believe reflects a larger viewpoint in high growth industries. To his credit Nadella claims it isn’t his, but there are subtle expressions of this point of view seen in ratios of women to men CEO’s, in ratios on boards, in ratios of fundraising allocations:  On Sunday, the Boston Globe reported that roughly 3% of companies who receive venture capital have women as CEO’s, and 6% of US VC partners are women. Approximately 16% of the directors of Fortune 1000 companies are women.

In Massachusetts, women-led businesses comprise 16% of all companies and generate $73B in revenue; the national average is around 4%. I was at a Top 100 Women in Boston event celebrating these women.  Looking around at the crowd, I can’t imagine any of them sat back and suffered in silence waiting to be noticed and given raises.

First, it’s ridiculous to expect women not to ask for what they need and want. End of story. Second, let’s be like Wonder Woman whenever we hear these injustices raised—directly or subtly—and expose the underlying thinking as inappropriate, inaccurate and unproductive.

The leaders in these industries are not going to be majority male forever. Over time, more women will be CEOs and directors, they’ll run investment companies, and so on. The culture will continue to shift away from women having to negotiate solely with male supervisors. A dynamic that assumes a woman employee must behave so that a male employer will like her will be outdated.

In the meantime, women at all levels would do well to run in the opposite direction from Nadella’s original advice. Maybe someday you will be in a situation that requires tact and delicacy, in which case, do that. But as a rule, quiet conciliation should not be your status quo.