Microsoft is still a male dominated culture, says Seattle Times

Kareem Anderson

Despite the continued prognostication by Microsoft regarding sweeping initiatives to combat systemic gender inequality in its workplaces, things aren’t changing as quickly as the company would like to narrate.

In fact, a recent piece in the Seattle Times depicts a work environment at Microsoft where the pay-gap disparity is only the tip of the iceberg of issues plaguing the company in terms of gender discrimination.

It was recently reported that several court filings had been lobbied at Microsoft regarding gender discriminatory practices and that news broke just a few days before the company was set to announce a whitewashed report claiming it has nearly eliminated the gender pay gap to the tune of 99.8 cents for women for every dollar made by men in the same offices.

However, the Seattle Times reports a much deeper rooted toxic culture women at Microsoft face beyond their financial earnings, that has many of them feeling isolated, bullied, unsupported, and opting for career opportunities elsewhere.

“Microsoft has kind of a traditional culture of being very comfortable with bullying and loud voices,” said Barbara Gordon, an executive who left in 2013. “The loudest voice in the room gets the attention.”

Gordon’s experience stemmed from Microsoft’s famously egregious stack ranking employment practices that seemingly rewarded bully tendencies with continued employment as employees tore one another down to justify their project, proposal, division or personal existence within the company. Sociological research has documented that such an environment, puts women at an inherent disadvantage due in part to cultural upbringing.

As a defense mechanism, some women were instructed to act and in rare cases dress like men to compete,

One woman, who joined Microsoft in the late 1990s, recalled some of the first instructions her manager gave her: Dress like the men.

“You have to fit in,” she was told.

She learned to curse, sprinkling profanity into hallway conversations to develop a rapport in overwhelmingly male groups.

“My first week there I cried because I was the only woman [on my team],” she said. “No one looked me in the eye.”

However, not all women were lucky enough to get by with an identity cover.

Another employee, a marketer, recalls an episode with an abusive male manager a few years ago. The women on his team left, one by one.

“I felt so alone,” she said. On the advice of a mentor, she accepted an eventual layoff instead of fighting back against the manager’s harassing comments and what she thought were unfair performance reviews.

Beyond stalling careers and aiding in a feeling of isolationism and lack of support, Microsoft’s practices have led to the company embarking on a retention crisis among women in ranking engineering positions despite its public proclamations in foster better working environments for women.

The decline is fueled in part by the workaholic culture that seemingly punishes women inversely for taking time off to care for children. While Microsoft does offer one of the more generous family-leave policies in the industry, the unspoken penalizing practices of levying promotions against perceived work effort have stalled the careers of women within the company for decades.

In practice, those benefits can be useless if there is pressure to stay at work or return quickly after the birth of a child. One employee recalls a warning she received from a manager: Never tell anyone you prioritize your family above the company.

With all that is wrong being highlighted by anonymous sources or former employees, how does Microsoft rectify its errors?

Roughly four years ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stuffed his foot in his mouth during an appearance Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event where he offered some off-color advice for women at arguably the crest of a global awareness of gender disparity in the technology industry.

Nadella’s remarks were said just a year after his ascension to the top spot at Microsoft and left many within the company questioning the level of his apparent tone-deafness while seemingly wanting to celebrate the inclusion of women in the industry. For his part, Nadella walked back his remarks and further clarified his position regarding women and the elusive raise situation that has systemically plagued the workplace for the female gender.

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.

Seems as though Microsoft may need to move as quickly to openly support claims of discrimination as Nadella did to save face. To date, many women and people of color have an inherent distrust of Microsoft’s HR department, viewing the entity as self-serving service rather than an actual human resource.

If women continue to shy away from filing complaints with HR in fear of violating NDA’s or being shuffled off into career-oblivion, then Microsoft will seemingly continue to pronounce percieved sweeping gender inequality victories based on bad data.

Microsoft, along with the rest of the industry, has a Catch 22 of a problem that can only be addressed after accepting a new level of transparency in its hiring and employment practices versus slapping lipstick on the pig of systemic gender disparity.