She Advocated For Women, Then Microsoft Pushed Her Off Its Board

“Are you trying to fucking destroy the company?” Bill Gates asked former board member Maria Klawe when she pushed for diversity.

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJul 12, 2021

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For Maria Klawe, the news was shocking but not surprising. In fall 2015, after serving on Microsoft’s board for more than six years, and advocating for fair pay and representation for women at the company, she was getting pushed out. The board told her it was looking for “more conventional” women, with business backgrounds, so it was time for her to go.

“I felt completely silenced and dismissed,” Klawe told me earlier this week. “I had put a lot of effort into Microsoft; I really loved the company.”

Less than a year earlier, Klawe, a computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College, sat on stage with Satya Nadella when the CEO made one of his biggest blunders. It was his mistake, yet now she was leaving.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise,” Nadella said in a fireside chat with Klawe at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women In Computing in October 2014. He was answering a question about how women should ask for raises — one he had reviewed beforehand — and told the women in attendance to trust a system that historically underpaid them. Klawe pushed back politely. And almost immediately, the exchange went viral, and not in a good way. Nadella emailed an apology to the entire company shortly afterward.

That, until recently, was the end of the story. But now Klawe is sharing what happened afterward.

Shortly after the conference, Klawe said, Microsoft board chair John Thompson reprimanded her. “He told me very directly that he was very upset that I had, number one, invited Satya to do that interview, and number two, corrected him when he gave the wrong answer,” she said. “He felt that I’d hurt the reputation of Microsoft by doing that.” Thompson did not return a request for comment.

Less than a year later, Klawe heard from Thompson again. And this time, she was asked to step down from the board. “I was tremendously upset,” she said.

You can listen to my conversation with Maria Klawe on the Big Technology Podcast on

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.