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3/3: Nadella and Women - How To Be The Leader We Need


Hang in there, Nadella, CEO Microsoft, advises women in the technology industry not to ask for a pay-raise. Trust in him, he believes, and faith in the system will eventually, reward women for their hard work.

I wrote in: Part 1, Nadella and Women: Four Alarming Facts, about the gender pay-gap and the daily disenfranchising behaviors professional women experience; and Part 2, The Satya Nadella Thinking Code, damaging effects advice such as this has for an organization and industry.

In Part 3, How Nadella Can Be the Leader We Need, I write about how Nadella can unleash creativity within Microsoft and the tech industry by harnessing female talent.

"What is it that we can do that is unique, that is impactful?," Rapper Common asks, quoting Nadella from his 2014 speech in the Super Bowl 2015 Microsoft sponsored ads; the answer is one that continues to evade Nadella: empower women.

The Cloud may be the next big thing, but there are many big myths clouding the technology industry. One false belief is that men – not women – are key consumers of technology. Not true, says Genevieve Bell, the Director of User Experience at Intel. In Western countries, she says women are remapping technology: more than men, women spend greater time on the internet surfing, skyping, texting, and networking on social media sites. And, specific technology-driven interventions in areas such as in-vitro fertilization are transforming the lives of women all over the world.

Women’s choices, Deloitte reports, translate to 85% of purchasing decisions or $4.3 trillion (of $5.9 trillion) of US consumer spending. This is no pocket-change and nor is the technology industry’s reach restricted only to information technology. How to tap into his female consumer’s extraordinary economic potential then, by tapping into the multiple markets that information technology touches, ought to be paramount for Nadella, and any other CEO.

Women’s interests are lucrative, and they’re creating a buzz in the global economy: on one hand women are economic drivers but on the other, they feel underserved by the products they purchase. Consider the recent launch of Apple Health, a self-tracking health app to let users measure “all of your metrics,” and yet, excludes menstruation.

This crucial omission of the most significant biological, psychological and emotional condition afflicting females as girls, wives, mothers, and sometimes, grandmothers and one which consumes an enormous chunk of their month isn’t just an honest blip; it is a symptom in the cultural value plaguing organizational innovation. Namely, women have peripheral, not primary benefits as consumers, collaborators, and contributors. Thus, women in Nadella’s Microsoft, like the rest of the world, might see themselves as game changers, but when it comes to Microsoft’s boardrooms and executive committees, they are kept at the margins. Gender is an important construct in shaping women’s thoughts, experiences, and world-views but when it comes to technology products, innovations seldom incorporate gender in designs.

Two important tasks of a CEO are how to gain competitive advantage by shaping an industry, and to mobilize all of employees equally. In this light, Super Bowl ads, estimated at sixteen million dollars may have limited utility in empowering Microsoft and it's culture.To gain these advantages, Nadella must create an ecosystem that enables gender-diversity. Understanding the ecosystem and working for the common good, are the most critical qualities for a leader to have, says Maccoby, an advisor for top-tier leadership in 35 countries or Strategic Intelligence. Strategic Intelligence in the case of Nadella would require foresight, crafting a vision, collaboration, and empowering people within Microsoft. In his book, The Leaders We Need, Maccoby says: leaders people follow are ones who understand deeply the diverse mix of people they lead. He also offers four suggestions to leaders: Develop a heart, clear the mind, listen deeply, and be responsive.

Developing a heart to listen deeply, a capability if nurtured, will serve Nadella well. To start with, for Nadella, this would involve tuning in to the female psyche. To attend to the complexities and challenges of being a woman he would need to identify the many “faces” of his female consumers (such as: single, married without children, married with children, divorced; and the vast swathe globally: poor women in countries like India, Africa and Bangladesh who spearhead entrepreneurial businesses via their mobiles).

To mobilize women Nadella would need to engage women at all organizational levels and in all processes – from tapping into other women’s user experiences to factoring in gender in the design process. This will assist Microsoft in gaining both commercial and innovative advantages. Work place diversity pays, Herring, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago would tell Nadella. Herring concluded that a diverse work force enhances business earnings: bringing in 15 times more sales revenue. There are other advantages in attracting and retaining talented women, especially for OECD countries where labor force is predicted to shrink by 15% by 2030. And Nadella would find, as Zenger and Folkman did, through a study of 7280 leaders that women do make for better leaders than men.

Nadella has the potential to shape technology and women’s private experiences at work by executing the Microsoft mantra – Be What’s Next. It’s a rare CEO, globally, that believes that gender diversity ought to be a strategic priority. It's true that Nadella has his plate full with Windows 10 and the future success of Azure, Xbox, and Office 365 but in order to give Microsoft the "best opportunity to serve our customers everywhere," Nadella will have to listen deeply and more than Ballmer did. Through deep listening and collaboration, Nadella could re-imagine organizational processes at Microsoft and reshape in positive ways the role of gender in technology. When executives find that their perspectives matter in their work places, it greatly improves their creativity and the quality of their lives. By honing in to the pulse and passions of his female executives, Nadella can be the leader we need.

So next time, when a young woman asks him, How should women ask for a raise, Nadella need only say: Just like everybody else!

I'd love to hear from you: What do you think makes for a good leader or a CEO? And, if you like this article, feel free to share