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Exclusive: Why GoDaddy Promoted 30% More Women This Year

October 2, 2017, 12:00 PM UTC

GoDaddy’s diversity report seems to tell a similar story to other those of other tech companies: Change is happening, but not as quickly as one would hope.

The number of women at the company increased by two percentage points since last year, from 24% to 26%. However, improvements were limited to the non-technical side of the organization, which now consists of 31% women (vs. 28% in 2016). The number of women in management also increased slightly, with 26% and 31% of leadership and senior leadership teams now consisting of women, respectively (vs. 25% and 26%).

The report doesn’t tell the whole story, insists Irving. “I think progress isn’t just measured in numbers,” says the Internet company chief, who is retiring at the end of the year. “The real jump is in [women’s] promotion trajectory,” he explains.

After taking the helm of GoDaddy in 2012—a time when the company was perhaps best known for its ads featuring scantily-clad women—Irving began working with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research in order to improve both outside perceptions of the company and its internal culture (though he notes that “the internal culture at GoDaddy never matched that external brand”).

After months of observation, the Institute, which works with corporates to promotes gender equality, concluded that GoDaddy was “a lot like most tech companies”—that is to say, it had a culture in which women and minorities were not always given the same opportunities as white men.

While many companies have tried to tackle this problem through unconscious bias training, says Irving, he decided to “experiment” with a different approach.

Irving’s team noticed that women were not getting promoted at the same rates as men (a phenomenon that is not unique to GoDaddy). At that time, promotions happened on an ad hoc basis, with employees who felt they were qualified raising their hands for open jobs. Yet, because men tend to believe they are qualified for jobs much more readily than women do—remember the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100%?—more men were asking to be promoted (and hence being promoted) than women.

To rectify this, Irving’s team decided to ask managers to review all employees as potential candidates for promotion—even those who didn’t ask. As a result, promotions of women jumped 30% in a single year—a change that was particularly noticeable in the ranks of second-level female engineers.

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An important thing to note here, Irving says, is that, although more women progressed, “men didn’t go backwards.”

Irving says that, unlike in some other tech companies, he hasn’t experienced backlash from male employees against the company’s directive to increase gender diversity. A recent New York Times piece exposed “a fringe element of men who say women are ruining the tech world,” but Irving sees the backlash as par for the course. “It’s maybe even natural” that people who feel they are being left out of the discussion feel this way, he says.

Still, reading the article, he couldn’t help his incredulity: “Really guys? You feel like you haven’t actually had an advantage up to this point?”

Irving expects his successor, current COO Scott Wagner, to continue to focus on the company’s diversity initiatives come 2018. “He has been riding shotgun” over the years, the GoDaddy chief says.