Women at Microsoft are using an internal email group to share claims of the gender discrimination they say they’ve faced at work, calling on management to address any pay or promotion gap between men and women.
Dozens of women have contributed to the conversation, which has been ongoing since May in an internal group called Technical Women at Microsoft. The group consists of engineers, developers, and other technical workers from across the company.
The email chain started when an employee asked women in the group how they felt about their compensation relative to others. The conversation evolved into a discussion not just about pay equity, but also their experiences with what they described as cases of gender and racial discrimination, as well as instances where they felt management or Human Resources didn’t take action on their complaints.
While the email chain included comments from only a few dozen of Microsoft’s some 180,000 employees around the world, the stories told by these women raise important concerns for a company whose own diversity report shows about 77% of all technical positions are held by men.
Many women used the thread to express their belief that men generally make more than women across Microsoft in both base compensation and bonuses. Insider is not naming the women to respect their privacy, but their identities are known to us. A spreadsheet of more than 1,200 Microsoft employees’ salaries was also shared in the email chain.
“Right now, women are all paid equally until the women who aren’t prove it,” the employee said. “We’re told to just ‘trust the system,’ per Satya’s infamous last Grace Hopper words,” referring to CEO Satya Nadella’s comments at the 2014 Grace Hopper conference for women in tech that women should rely on “faith” in the system and “good karma” to get pay raises, rather than asking bosses for what they feel they deserve. Nadella later apologized for the comments.
“We are actively engaging with and listening to our employees and appreciate their willingness to openly share their experiences and feelings,” Microsoft’s spokesperson said. “We are proud of the progress we’ve made as a company in recent years to reduce the gap between the lived experiences of our employees and the culture we aspire to have; however, at the same time, we also acknowledge that there is still more work to be done. Listening to employee feedback and creating a safe space for dialogue, input and reporting is essential to our culture.”
The conversation included discussion of perceived microaggressions like being ignored in or kept out of meetings, men speaking over them or taking credit for their ideas, and a lack of action from human resources and company leaders.
“Root cause of a lot of this ugly dynamic of dismissing or ignoring women in the room is too often protection of certain (no, most definitely not all) men’s egos,” one employee wrote in the thread. “Those who have the twisted belief that they are more deserving of the technical role than any woman or certain minorities they think are inferior and out of place here. Let’s not ignore that or soften it. It is what it is.”
The workplace can be particularly difficult for women of color, one employee said. “Sometimes it is like the minority women are more invisible than any other in the room, and yet more targeted at the very same time,” the person wrote in the thread. “They must pipe up to even exist, much less succeed. But then, of course, they are labelled the ‘bossy,’ ‘troublesome’ sort.”
Some employees spoke of being afraid to speak up, including out of a “reluctance to make a scene, have a target on one’s own back, cause trouble, etc.” or out of concern asking for more compensation would affect their prospects. “If I said ‘no, I’m worth more,’ I might not have been able to get the job,” one employee wrote.
Others responded to the thread by saying they believed it wouldn’t make a difference. “Being kept out of meetings, having men on projects speaking over you, or deliberately ignoring ideas are quick and effective in their speed and subtlety,” one employee wrote in the thread.
“It is wise for technical women to move slowly and carefully to navigate this environment,” another person wrote in the thread. “They simply do not have the same freedom as the men to demand — at least, not without subtle career threatening consequences.”
Kristen Roby Dimlow, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of human-resources business insights, was added to the thread and responded by encouraging women to reach out to higher-level managers or human resources about the issues discussed.
“Differences in pay can be complicated and often nuanced,” Dimlow wrote, saying pay was based on factors like performance, market competition, equal pay for substantially similar work, and supporting Microsoft culture, plus role, location, and length in level.
Some of the women said they did speak up only to find a lack of action from human resources and company leaders. One person discussed leaving Microsoft in part because of a lack of attention by management to correct issues. One person said going through management and HR was “futile and extremely stressful.”
“We expect all our employees – no matter what level, role or function – to act with respect, integrity and accountability,” Microsoft’s spokesperson said. “And when anyone falls short of that, we have processes in place to listen, learn and take action. We also believe in equal pay for equal work and will share this past year’s representation and pay data in our annual Diversity & Inclusion Report this Fall.”
A similar email chain spread through the company in 2019 consisting of women sharing stories of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Microsoft’s spokesperson says that in 2020 the company made steps to close faster and provide more transparency around any investigations into claims of improper workplace behavior, and has also changed its hiring practices to make sure candidates from diverse backgrounds are considered for open roles and to train managers in inclusive hiring practices.
Microsoft in its 2020 diversity-and-inclusion report said it had achieved equal pay for women and men in “substantially similar roles” when combined across offices in the US, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The report indicated that among Microsoft employees, women held just 23% of technical roles and 20% of partner and executive roles. Its updated 2021 report is due to be released soon.