The Fairy Tale Called Workplace Meritocracy


Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, stirred up controversy recently by suggesting that women would be doing themselves a favor by not asking for a raise:

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 along. 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’ll come back, because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.

McCombs Assistant Professor Emily Amanatullah studies women, negotiation, and gender roles in business and explains in the Chicago Tribune why Nadella — though well-intentioned — is getting it wrong.

“Trusting that your merits will be rewarded in absence of self-promotion and politicking is naïve,” she writes. However, Amanatullah’s research shows that when women do negotiate on their own behalf, it often backfires.

“Unfortunately, women are punished for engaging in such behaviors. On this level, Nadella was right to recommend women shy away from asking for more. The work of many gender researchers consistently shows that women who initiate negotiations and assert their self-interests are socially punished for doing so, incurring what is known as the backlash effect.”

Amanatullah explains that in a laboratory experiment, two subjects with equivalent qualifications — one male, one female — are asked to negotiate a salary for the same job. The female job candidate encountered significant social and work-related backlash even though she used the same negotiation techniques and behavior as the male candidate, who did not experience the same negative repercussions. 

“We need to bring this unconscious bias into our deliberative thinking and, instead of trying to address gender inequity by ignoring gender, confront it head-on.”

To read the full op-ed from October 15, 2014, visit the Chicago Tribune.


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The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

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About The Author

Emily Amanatullah

Assistant Professor of Management, McCombs School of Business

Emily Amanatullah earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Columbia University in 2007 and a B.S. in psychology and computer science from...


#1 You're doing great work

You're doing great work Emily! Keep it up - we (women) appreciate it!

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