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A group of University of Washington undergraduate and graduate students attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference last week.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in Seattle last month.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in Seattle last month.

Satya Nadella set off a firestorm last week after advising women to not explicitly ask for a raise, but rather rely on “good karma.” His words not only dominated the headlines on tech news websites, but even national and global media picked up the story.

The Microsoft CEO made the comments — which were later retracted — during a fireside chat with Harvey Mudd College President and Microsoft board member Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, an annual conference founded in 1994 that is “designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.” Nadella’s interview actually wasn’t the only session at the three-day event that sparked more controversy about women in technology.

We caught up with some University of Washington computer science students who were representing their school at the conference (read how the UW is trying to increase women representation in computing here). Read on to hear what they had to say about Nadella’s comments and women in technology as a whole.

Jennifer Kang.

Jennifer Kang, fourth-year computer science and informatics student

On Nadella’s comments and what it says about the tech industry: 

“Yes, I did hear Satya Nadella’s comments. I’m not sure if I can come to any conclusions about the tech industry as a whole. I think the important takeaway here is the conversation it has subsequently sparked. Satya’s response to the question for providing advice to women who aren’t comfortable with asking for a raise was to trust in the system. This would be sound advice, however if certain individuals are more aggressive and subsequently benefit because they push more, then that creates an unfair advantage and you can’t really trust or rely on the system.

Research shows that more women are hesitant to ask for a raise compared to men. However, I don’t believe you can deduce this to mean that because women are more hesitant than men in asking for a raise, that this leads to the gender pay gap. It’s certainly a contributor, however, it’s not the only issue involved. Therefore, while this may have been a blunder, or perhaps an oversight on Satya Nadella’s part, maybe this was the needed spark to stimulate the gender pay gap conversation.”

On why it is important to get more females interested in computer science:

“It’s important to get more females interested in computer science and to continue in computer science because they bring additional unique talent and mindset into this field.”

Karolina Pyszkiewicz.
Karolina Pyszkiewicz.

Karolina Pyszkiewicz, second-year computer science student and UW’s Google Student Ambassador

On Nadella’s comments and what it says about the tech industry:

“Satya Nadella’s talk and comments made me realize that as the tech industry is rapidly expanding, there are various issues arising that need to be voiced. Although part of the talk was focused specifically on asking for a raise, I think this brings up the greater issue, which is confidence.

In the field of technology, all of us women are surrounded by incredibly intelligent and accomplished people, which makes it very easy to downgrade ourselves because of that. I met various technical women at the keynotes, workshops, meetups, interviews, and company dinners I attended at the conference. They are all extremely talented and have accomplished so much in their lives already, but many denied how intelligent they are because they are surrounded by so many incredible people themselves.

It is so easy to overlook our own accomplishments and underestimate our capabilities when we are immersed in such a fast-paced and innovative environment. This plays a major role when asking for a raise, because many of us women think that we shouldn’t negotiate because our coworkers are far more impressive and we don’t deserve it. However, now that women are starting to speak out about this issue and voicing the reality, other people in the industry slowly realizing this, and many still deny it. There are still a lot of improvements to be made in the tech industry, but events like Grace Hopper help to raise up these issues and create plans to fix them.”

On why is it important to get more females interested in computer science:

“More and more women are starting to get interested in computer science, but we as a society have a long way to go. Although many programs are tackling this issue, I think that it is easy to overlook the real reason for these efforts. We are not trying to get more females into computer science just because the numbers are low or because we need to increase diversity in the workplace, although this is true. The real reason is because of the incredible contributions that women can potentially make in the tech industry.

It is disheartening to think that although women make up roughly half the population of the world, they still have such a minor presence in the field of computing. That means that many females around the world either don’t know what computer science is, or don’t feel they are capable enough to be in this industry. The diversity of ideas and perspectives that women could contribute to the workplace will better serve our heterogenous population, especially since we are constantly surrounded by technology today.”

Amrita Mazumdar.
Amrita Mazumdar.

Amrita Mazumdar, graduate student in UW’s computer architecture group

On Nadella’s comments and what it says about the tech industry: 

“Satya Nadella’s comments about wages are very reflective of the tech industry’s self-perception as a ‘meritocracy,’ ignoring many of the existing biases that exclude women and other minority groups. The emphatic rejection from Maria Klawe and the media, however, shows that the industry is learning to push back against this myth of meritocracy and address issues that exclude minorities at later stages of their career.”

On why is it important to get more females interested in computer science:

“Computer science is an extremely creative discipline, and the only way we can improve in computing is to be more creative. By excluding minority demographics, the field of computer science restricts itself to only the ideas of a few, and as a result, restricts the ways in which computing can grow. By improving diversity in the people working on computer science problems, we improve the quality of the solutions we produce.”

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