Blake Irving, the CEO of GoDaddy who will step down at the end of the year, said he was terrified heading into a keynote for the Grace Hopper Foundation, where he showed a series of misogynistic ads his company ran over the years to a crowd of more than 8,000 women in tech.
“You have to actually own this stuff. It’s not an HR directive,” he said, encouraging leaders to ask themselves, “What am I authentically excited about changing?”
Irving and other Fortune 500 leaders joined Fortune senior editor Ellen McGirt — the woman behind the raceAhead newsletter — and Salesforce chief equality officer Tony Prophet on Monday at the Fortune and Time CEO Initiative conference for a town hall on corporate diversity, following an interview with Arianna Huffington about the cultural shifts happening within Uber.
The discussion that followed gave leaders advice for fostering diversity and inclusion in their workforce. You can follow along with Time and Fortune’s CEO Initiative conference schedule and livestream.
Irving said his approach in shifting the culture when he got to GoDaddy was a mix of grassroots initiatives and owning diversity from the top.
“If you own it and you’re willing to put yourself out there, you can change the company,” he said, but it requires, “putting yourself out there in a way that is, frankly, frightening.”
Transparency is a key part of that. Irving said releasing information about the company’s progress on a regular basis is not always easy — “It’s not a brag sheet,” he said — but it helps.
“Fifty percent of our new college graduate engineering hires were women last year,” he said. “It was 15% five years ago, so it’s working.”
Salesforce’s Prophet had similar sentiments about the his company’s diversity journey.
“Our view is that there is no higher purpose than standing for equality in all of its dimensions,” he said, noting that like many tech companies, the cloud giant still has work to do to create an inclusive culture where all employees feel valued and “no one feels that they have to check some fraction of their identity at the door.”
Don’t be afraid
Asher Raphael, co-CEO of Power Home Remodeling (named the Best Place to Work for millennials by Fortune in 2015) encouraged leaders to open up discussions about difficult topics, regardless of fears about how the conversations might go.
Power recently held their first diversity and inclusion summit, despite concern about bringing “hot-button” issues out into the open and Raphael emphasized the supportive and transformative tone among the 150 employees who participated.
“You could feel the entire organization changing direction,” he said.
Celebrate different kinds of leadership
Alyse Nelson, CEO and president of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit that invests in women’s leadership, noted that inclusion of different types of leadership can help improve organizations.
“All the things that [Huffington’s] championed at Uber as a board member, we all know she has believed in has been championing for a long time,” she said, “so why did it take a crisis in leadership to bring forth her voice on the board?”
Bernard Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente offered a personal perspective on the strength of differences, calling the pursuit of more diverse teams “an agenda of inclusiveness and understanding the power of nuances.”
“My journey has always been the different person in the room, since I started my career,” Tyson said. “I am different. My life experience is different and guess what? Because of that I have something to offer.”