More than karma needed to address gender inequality (and Congrats #22at22)

Microsoft isn’t everyone’s favorite company (having to refresh my computer twice in November didn’t help my #NaBloPoMo objectives last month), but being a US$344 billion company means you must be doing something right (or wrong, depending on your view of its business practices).

So when their leader espouses some business advice that is consistent with commercial principles, it should make at least some sense.  It’s also usually standard and sound theory to tell an audience to have faith in a freely working market and its judgment about the value of a product or person.

That didn’t work for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella two months ago when responding to a question about inequality at a Women in Computing conference.  His comments sparked a wave of criticism over what many saw was a blind disregard or ignorance of the challenges faced by women to attain respect and equality in the workplace.

“…it’s not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go long. And that I think might be one of the additional ‘superpowers,’ that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It will come back. Somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to give more responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.”

Of course, the gender gap, when it comes to matters like pay equity as well as the status of women in upper management positions, is an ongoing issue.  If you take his comments out of the context, what he says does stand well on its own, but that greatly reflects how much it is not the discriminated who needs to take greater action in order to overcome their situation.  Leaders do need to lead by example.

However, this responsibility does extend to the population in general as well.  Just as much as how when a woman achieving a position like CEO is reported as a sign as “female progress”, Chris Rock recently pointed out that the election of Barack Obama as US President in 2008 should be seen as “white progress”, not black.  That the question isn’t whether there are any women or blacks qualified enough to fill such positions as much as whether the public is prepared to accept them.

This insight is not new either when it comes to gender equality or racism, but that is part of the point  in this blog about the need for everyone, not just leaders, to adopt a public interest perspective for lasting progressive social change to become possible.  Markets and politics are expressions of the will of the people and thus the solution to these issues must be democratic to be sustainable.  This then requires those who comprise these bodies to embrace equality and fairness in order for such principles to be encompassed into the collective decisions and opinions we make.

Perhaps then we can maybe rely more on theory and karma to work in reality.

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John Oliver had a funny segment on the gender wage gap over the summer which, speaking of funny, brings me to the Canadian news and political satire show This Hour has 22 Minutes which just celebrated its 22nd anniversary last night with a retrospective.  This is a show in which, over the years, Canadian politicians have given up trying to avoid its tactics and have now pretty much play along with its gags, or at least pretend to.  One which, back in the 90’s, forced the Reform party, precursor to the current form of the ruling Conservatives, to reconsider the idea of allowing national referendums if enough people sign a petition when the show’s website got over a million hits on a petition that demanded that the party leader at the time, Stockwell Day, be forced to change his first name to Doris.

Thanks for 22 years of terrific topical humour!

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Posted in Business, Politics

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