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Can ​Microsoft's bad gender "karma" be fixed?

When it comes to waiting for "karma" to kick in, Silicon Valley and the tech world don't have a great track record when it comes to parity between men and women.

Microsoft CEO apologizes after comment on sal... 03:02

A furor erupted on Thursday night when Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella advised women in the tech industry that they shouldn't ask for salary bumps. "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," Nadella told an audience at a conference devoted to women in computing. Trust in "good karma," he added.

While Nadella soon backtracked from the advice after an uproar arose, with critics calling his comments sexist and wrong-headed, his view raises the question of whether Silicon Valley is the type of place where women are given equal footing with men. The answer? Yes and no.

Some evidence exists to show that women, at least early in their careers, are paid at the same levels as men in technology-related fields. But that's a similar to pay trends across all fields, with young women earning 93 cents for every $1 earned by their young male counterparts. For women of all age groups and across professions, the pay gap is much larger, plummeting to 77 cents for each $1 earned by men.

For young women who recently graduated from college and who are working in computer or engineering fields, there's no significant pay discrepancy compared with men, according to a study from the American Association of University Women.

While some might interpret that to mean there's no pay difference between the genders in tech fields, that's not entirely the case. Pay gaps often emerge as workers get older, often with women taking penalties when they start families.

Women's income decreases 4 percent for each child they have, according to recent research from University of Massachusetts, Amherst sociology professor Michelle Budig. Men who become fathers, on the other hand, actually get a pay bump of more than 6 percent.

There are many reasons why women may take a pay cut after they have children, ranging from cutting back on hours to employer discrimination, with bosses assuming lower work commitment, Budig writes. Fatherhood, on the other hand, "is a valued characteristic of employers, signaling perhaps greater work commitment, stability, and deservingness," she notes.

Looking at women in tech across the board, Harvard University labor economist Claudia Goldin found that a pay gap does exist, albeit a smaller one than in many other fields. Female computer scientists, for example, earn 89 cents for each $1 their male counterparts make, when controlled for age, race, hours and education, Goldin found.

That suggests that even though the pay gap is smaller than in other professions, it still exists for women working in technology fields.

But the bigger gender issue facing Silicon Valley and the tech industry may not be the pay gap, but an even more fundamental disparity: A lack of women in tech, period.

Silicon Valley giants such as Yahoo (YHOO) and Google (GOOG) have recently disclosed that their employee roster is overwhelmingly male, with the disparity even greater in their engineering and technology departments.

That problem starts far earlier than the hiring process at these companies, of course, with fewer women and minorities enrolled in computer science programs and other tech-related fields at U.S. colleges. It's also possible managers are hiring employees they think "fit" their cultures, which are predominantly white and male.

Microsoft's gender composition is no better. Women only comprise 17 percent of its technical and engineering staff and management.

That slim percentage of female employees raises the possibility that Nadella hasn't heard many women ask for raises because, well, there just aren't that many female engineers working at Microsoft.

On top of that, women already fail to ask for raises at the same rate as men, who are four times more likely to ask for a pay bump than their female counterparts. While women may be worried they'll appear too aggressive if they stand up for themselves, the fact is -- despite Nadella's initial comments -- if you don't ask, chances are you won't get it.

Nadella backtracked later, echoing that sentiment in a memo posted to Microsoft's website after his gaffe. He noted, "If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

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