GoDaddy CEO on ditching bikinis and promoting diversity

GoDaddy CEO on ditching bikinis and promoting diversity

Last week, I wondered aloud: can the strides that GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving has made in furthering  diversity in the workplace, especially for women, undo the damage that its years of sexist ads wrought upon the company?

It turns out that Irving, who has been CEO of the company since 2013, wonders the same thing. After my article ran, I was invited to meet with him and have a conversation about the complications that arise when running a company that spent a lot of ad dollars associating itself with bikini models and racy commercials.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited lightly for space and clarity:

Why have you taken the cause of gender diversity up?

My background precedes GoDaddy when it comes to diversity. My sister, who was a psychology professor at Washington State University, was one of the leading experts in women and self esteem issues. She tragically passed away about fifteen years ago, so my pledge to her was to do as much as I could in my chosen field in terms of forwarding women in being successful, and trying to make their internal locus of control more powerful.

Throughout my career, I’ve always looked at women being just as capable. And I wanted to do everything I can to forward that.

When I took the role at GoDaddy, I thought it was a business that had great legs. I didn’t understand the advertising, or how it squared with its audience. The founder of the company [Bob Parsons, who sold 70 percent of his GoDaddy stock and resigned as CEO in 2011], did a great job of getting attention. The company I found when I interviewed was different from the one self-portrayed in advertising.

It was clear to me that if I was going to attract technical women in the company, I was going to have to change the narrative of the business.

We started by showing women as business owners, and doing what every small businessperson tries to do. We wanted to represent them in a way that was real.

We’re still trying to find our voice, but we want to show women as business owners.

It seems like a Sisyphean task. You had 78 percent brand awareness surrounding that old sexist brand aesthetic. Do you find that people still associate GoDaddy with that?

Absolutely.

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Is it dwindling? Or is it blood from a stone.

I’d say it’s diminishing at an increasing rate, but people have long memories.

I have run into countless people who compliment me on GoDaddy commercials. I ask, “Which ones?” Because they’re so different! I’m never sure which they’re talking about.

And that is going to take a long time. It’s not something that happens quickly. The other stuff built the company to a billion-dollar company. To make it a five billion dollar company, you have to adjust. We’re in 37 countries, 44 languages and 17 different payment types.

We have to move away from being in NASCAR and those ads. We have to be about technology and helping business owners. And we’re pushing pretty hard on the diversity message, and starting with gender.

Last year, in hiring new college grads and interns, just 19 percent were women. This year, we had 39 percent women. So we’re seeing movement in this company. We can say, “This is real.”

It’s not going to be about taking a mass shift of hundreds of thousands of people who are in our audience — they have 10 years of what they know. Instead, it’s an evolution, and you would expect that the rate of decay quickens over time.

We’ve taken those old ads down, because we want to represent the company we’re going to be.

I’ve seen clips of the movie you produced, ‘Code: Debugging the Gender Gap For Women,’ but not in its entirety. To be honest, I’m burnt out on the repeating narratives and platitudes told to women about women in technology.

Women don’t need to be told what it’s like. The movie isn’t just for women — it’s for the collective consciousness of the tech industry. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, you can’t watch the film and not be affected by it.

My hope is that people see the movie and think that they should check themselves and check their unconscious bias. We’re doing unconscious bias training through the Clayman Institute at Stanford, which also audited the company.

We got our results, and now we’re learning how to coach around it so managers — not just leaders — can address the way they think.

It’s not to tell women what’s happening. They know! The issue is that people who believe they know and control their own bias are actually more biased than someone who doesn’t believe that they know.

The important thing about this movie, about doing unconscious training, is that there’s a conversation between men that has to happen about this. When they’re 82 percent of the population in tech and they don’t take an introspective look on how they’re behaving, that’s a problem.

No matter where you look in tech, the gender diversity numbers are relatively the same — poor. Companies are working towards diversity in many ways, but it’s hard to move the needle forward. Despite your hard work on gender diversity over the past few years, GoDaddy’s numbers look like every other company’s. How does that make you feel?

It’s going to take time. The numbers are so big, you can’t just put your best foot forward and make a bunch of changes to solve not only the the gender imbalance in tech, but the educational path leading up to it.

Maria Klawe [President] at Harvey Mudd is doing a great job at growing her population of women receiving technical degrees. Ignatios Valakis [Department Chair of Computer Science] at Cal Poly is doing a great job. Both of these schools are seeing growth in class population from their numbers in the teens to 40 and 20 percent.

Valakis is a guy! But he gets it. He believes that when men and women are represented in equal numbers on a team, their personalities balance out and they actually work better. That’s something we’re experimenting with this.

Having new interns and new hires are important for me. There are numbers I received that I cannot share, but looks like the needle is moving forward.

But it is a slow process. There’s so much systemic change that needs to take place.

In October, we’re going to publish an audit of salary comparisons between gender — and we’re publishing the results. If the premise is that women have been underpaid, those women have been underpaid across companies and enter in underpaid. Women are hired into roles and get salaries based on what they were making, so the problem is perpetuated.

We’re looking at the audit and trying to correct for this systemic problem across the industry. That’s pretty important.

Are you looking to institute any kind of system to work on that data?

We’re instituting a tiered system, doing levels one through ten based on experience. So each individual will know where they are and how long they’ve been there.

For us, we are big into visibility and transparency. We’re rolling out transparency among employee positions now. So people will have conversations about why one person is an engineer three versus another who is an engineer four. We’re having those conversations, and making sure people in the company are comfortable with them. And then we’ll bring in the salary portion.

We’re doing a bunch of analysis on salaries that, by the end, of the year, we’ll share the numbers.

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Are you afraid of any backlash from workers when they see an increase in female faces, especially in tech roles?

Nope. No. That’s just weird to me!

At 18 percent, women are 1.8 per every 10 people in tech. So what happens when you start increasing the number? When you get 50 percent parity, the best behavior comes out in both parties. Genders are different, and you get the most out of them by evenly weighting the team.

It’s an incredible burden for women, especially in leadership, trying to bring up others. That’s the difficulty with allyship — leaders are men, so it’s imperative we work with them to bring the numbers up. What do you see as your role in all this?

I’m an advocate. An outspoken advocate, and somebody who wants to change the situation and is willing to make statements publicly to do it. And to be in uncomfortable positions, like last year’s Grace Hopper Conference.

Because more men have seats at the table, more men have to speak up and take action. If you believe your workforce is equal to your customer, you owe it to your workforce to reflect that diversity.

Do you have a goal, a number you want to get to in the coming years for diversity at your company?

I don’t have a magic number, but I want to see the number increasing at a faster rate every year. Then I’ll know we’re making progress.

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