Almost four decades later, the ratio has improved: About a third of Microsoft's 110,000 or so employees are women. But the company's pay practices and attitude toward women are still open to question and will likely be taken up at the board level, according to one director, Maria Klawe.

The issue hit the headlines and social media on Thursday when new CEO Satya Nadella suggested women in tech shouldn't ask for pay raises but should instead trust the system and rely on "karma" to get what they deserve.

He later said he was wrong, but the damage was done, reinforcing the view that Microsoft — and the tech industry generally — is a boys' club.
"He blew that question," said Klawe in a telephone interview on Friday. "He's retracted it. I think it's going to take us all to a better place. I'm pretty sure he's going to be thinking really hard about pay equity."

It was Klawe, a longtime campaigner for women in tech, who asked Nadella the question onstage on Thursday that led to his remarks, and she has since led the company's efforts at damage limitation.

Klawe, 63, said she has been pressing for hiring and promoting women at Microsoft since she joined the board five years ago, but the issue of pay raises for women had not been discussed by the board.

"I suspect it might be now," she said.

Klawe pointed to the recruitment of Peggy Johnson from Qualcomm as head of business development in September as a recent success, but she conceded there have been backward steps, notably the ousting of Tami Reller and Julie Larson-Green, who ran the flagship Windows unit until a shakeup in 2013.

"I did feel badly that we had Tami and Julie on the executive team and then had two fewer people. But it really had to do with what made sense in terms of who was the right person for which job," said Klawe. "I'm sure we'll see more women in those levels."

Reller has since left Microsoft, while Larson-Green is responsible for the overall look and feel of Microsoft's software services.