Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stirred up a firestorm of criticism for suggesting that silence is the key to success in the workplace—women shouldn’t ask for a pay raise or promotion but just let managers notice their good work and all will take care of itself. Though Nadella later backtracked from his remarks, it’s not just women who should take issue with that advice. It is exactly the wrong advice for everybody. It is time we all start speaking up for and at work for fairness, efficiency and mutual respect.
Just look at where “silence” has gotten us over the years.
We can start with the gap that has grown in wage and productivity growth over the past 30 years. As shown in the chart below, before that, from 1948 to about 1979, wages and productivity grew in tandem; thereby, expanding and strengthening the middle class and making it possible for baby boomers to live the American Dream of improving on the standard of living they experienced growing up. Since then, productivity rose 64.9%, and hourly compensation rose only 8.2%. The decline in the traditional vehicle for worker voice—trade unions and collective bargaining — accounts for a significant portion of this wage-productivity gap. It is clear that all workers should be speaking up at work for their collective and individual fair share of the economic progress they help produce.
Or consider the one-third of the unemployed workforce that has been out of work for a half a year or more. They need to speak up for a job of any kind. Instead, the algorithms built into those omnipresence online application screens kick out the long-term unemployed regardless of their potential. They never get to speak up for themselves in a personal interview.
Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research and Engineering Systems, and the Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.