What Satya Nadella Should Have Said: How to Move Up and Earn More

Strategies For Getting A Raise
Strategies for getting a raise: tips from women at the top (Image: US Department of Labor)

Strategies for getting what you’re worth, from women at the top of their games (and industries)

Trust karma and you’ll get what you have earned.

I almost can’t believe he said it.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft famously made this comment recently, and he said it in reference to what women should do to earn more money in their jobs (and then quickly retrenched in the backlash). His comment, more than most insensitive, pay-gap-denial comments, made me shudder. It’s the same load of bullcrap I heard when I graduated from college and was looking for a job that would pay the bills and still afford a slice of pizza and a beer on the weekends without going into debt. And, it didn’t work.

The problem is, girls have been given this sort of advice while boys have been groomed to expect more and demand what they get. Or to knock on different doors. Or something. Clearly; year after year, the earning gap endures and after listening to a few experts, I have to wonder: do women know how to ask for what they want and feel they deserve?

For too long, women were groomed to believe that discussing money was unseemly, that asking for money was crass and that measuring your success by your paycheck was, well, gross. It was more important to follow your passion, do what you love and then, we were told, the money would follow.

Only, for most, it didn’t.

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At the top of her game? Alicia Boler-Davis, SVP of quality and consumer experience for GM, says women should put themselves out there, ask for what they want and work hard

GM’s SVP Alicia  Boler-Davis: Five tips to put you on top

So, who has been able to earn what she’s worth? I had the opportunity to listen to Alica Boler-Davis, senior vice president of global quality and customer experience at General Motors, a company that actively grooms and mentors women and minorities, and her advice rings in my ears.

Boler-Davis has risen to one of the highest jobs at GM. She’s been on her way up the ladder since 1994, and helped to create a culture that celebrates diversity and actively mentors women to pursue higher positions inside the company. Twenty one percent of GM’s employees are now women, and Boler-Davis, CEO Mary Barra, and many other senior women leaders are evidence that things are changing.

So: what can a woman do to earn more? Boler-Davis has several suggestions for how women can change their thinking to be poised to seize the future they want.

First, keep improving yourself

Boler-Davis admits that she needed to improve her skill set. Armed with a degree in chemical engineering, she thought she was set with the knowledge and know-how she needed for her career. But just a few years ago she realized she lacked the engineering knowledge that her peers had. So, she went back to school and earned a degree in engineering.

Second, and most important, ask for what you want

Believe that you deserve a raise? Ask for it. Believe that you would be a great asset to a new division? Ask for it. Know that you’re the right candidate to lead expansion? Ask for it. When Boler-Davis was promoted into her current position, she had to build a staff. She was surprised that men came forward and nominated themselves for jobs that were available; they didn’t wait to be discovered or ‘tapped’ for the jobs.

Third, put yourself out there

Be available for projects, get involved in groups, committees or other ‘extracurriculars’ that let you get to know people in other areas of your company or industry. Make it known to your bosses, your co-workers and to others that you’re interested in growing, learning and moving up. And don’t be shy to let people know that you’d be interested in taking on new challenges. When Boler-Davis was promoted and before she had defined the roles she needed to hire for, she had men emailing her to say, ‘hey, I’m interested in working for you; let me know what opportunities arise?’ When she needed to fill jobs quickly, guess who she talked to first?

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Women at the top of GM: Jocelyn Allen, director of diversity communications and marketing, and Alicia Boler-Davis, svp of quality and customer experience, offer career tips and advice for women

Fourth, work hard

Hard work is the entry-level qualifier of getting promoted, so make it part of your ethic. Then, feel satisfied and proud of your work, always do your personal best, never settle for less. Your leadership and co-workers will recognize this and when the question of your ability for a new job or promotion is raised, it will also be answered.

Fifth, mentor and allow yourself to be mentored

Learning, earning and achieving is much easier when you have help and support. General Motors has active mentoring programs designed to groom women for new roles inside the company, and for the women who work there, this is lucky. Not all organizations actively mentor, so seek out those relationships if you have to, find a mentor, and when you achieve your goals, be sure to mentor someone who is looking for advice and help to build her career.

How TV icon Mika Brzezinski Did it

A few years ago, Mika Brzezinski had some great advice in her book Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth. In it, she takes a look at how women successfully achieve the pay scales they are due, even in a world that will pay them less if possible.

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Mika Brzezinski recalls her experience setting new standards for her work in her book “Knowing Your Value”

The host of Morning Joe, a popular news program on MSNBC, Brzezinski learned that her counterpart Joe Scarborough, made a lot more money than she did. She wanted a raise. But in her quest, she stumbled. “My salary situation at ‘Morning Joe’ wasn’t right. I made five attempts to fix it, then realized I’d made the same mistake every time: I apologized for asking,” she said.

In figuring out how to get what she wanted, Brzezinski found two truths to be dominant, not just in her own actions, but among women in general: first, that bosses will always pay less if they can and second, that women tend not to ask for what they are worth.

But finally, Brzezinski was successful, and she did several things: she created a sense of pay transparency by asking her bosses and immediate co-workers what the job was worth; she went to men who she respected and asked for advice on negotiating for what she wanted; and eventually, she set a number and held tight until she got it. Her plight became the focus of management meetings and negotiations with others on her team, including Scarborough, who finally told management that if they didn’t pay her what she was worth, they would lose him, too.
Now that’s putting it out there and getting what you want.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss