Bikinis and Bongos: GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving Beats the Drums of Change

Blake IrvingWhen you speak with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, it’s easy to conjure the teenage percussionist he once was, asserting his high energy drive with his drumsticks, and quite possibly driving his mother crazy by beating bongos while doing the split in the kitchen like Jean-Claude Van Damme in this classically weird GoDaddy ad.

I had a chance to interview the leader of the world’s largest and most controversial domain name registrar, not long after his first anniversary there.

This New York Times piece on GoDaddy’s changed advertising strategy had initially drawn my attention to Irving, who describes himself accurately as gregarious and easy-going. I was curious to find out about his leadership philosophy, and how he had quickly moved the company to a laser focus on the mission of serving small businesses, their core customer base, while deftly changing its public image with women.

Like many women, I’ve in the past been offended by GoDaddy’s sexist brand presence. Remember those Superbowl ads depicting “hot women” in scanty clothes, their come-hither messages aimed to entice adolescent boys — and men who think like adolescent boys — to use the company’s products? Eye rollers became deal breakers as they increasingly objectified women’s bodies, with ample breasts and bikinis splayed over the company website.

And then suddenly, there was the switch from boobs to those funky bongos. What had happened?

The timely confluence of three factors — economics, personal lived experience and women’s activism — I believe, propelled Irving’s successful change of course.

Baring it all: women, business and changing the core culture

I found Irving, who keeps a drum set in his office, straightforward about how he had approached the company. He’s big on doing the hard work of understanding the company and the culture before making decisions about where to take it, then being decisive and consistent about his vision. He likens the discipline of leadership to Jazz, saying that in both, one must simultaneously perfect performance while improvising.

One of the first things he observed is that women, lo and behold, had become GoDaddy’s core customer. “We conducted extensive customer research and found that 58% of our customers are women. Women own half of the businesses in the US, and globally, women are the primary business owners,” said Irving. “The values inside the company didn’t square with the ads that were in the marketplace.”

Careful not to disparage GoDaddy’s founder, Irving opines that Bob Parsons knew garnering attention could gain market share. But he acknowledges, in today’s economy, a successful company has to be inclusive of women, both inside the company and in its public face: “We value everybody. We allow women customers to pursue their own ventures. We do not want to objectify them.”

And Irving believes a successful company’s employee base has to match its customer base. GoDaddy’s leadership overall is 30% women, and they’ve just appointed Silicon Valley insider Betsy Rafael (about whom I will write in my next post) to their board. Though she’ll be their first female board member, one gets the feeling she won’t be the only one for long.

I’ve even noticed more female (and female-friendly) voices lately when I call GoDaddy for customer support.

So the marketplace has pushed GoDaddy, as it has many companies, to better serve women customers and better treat female employees. But other factors are also at play.

The personal is still political

Often it’s soft hearts for their daughters that influence men to want women to get a fair shake. But Irving, who has sons and no daughters, says his views were shaped by his mom, wife and sisters — feminists all. And he was moved by the untimely death of his youngest sister, a leading researcher on the effects of women’s body image. He promised her he would do everything he can to get women into leadership in the tech industry. He’s making good on that promise.

At the root of social change is always the personal story, the most powerful driver in all realms. So for Blake Irving, commitment to advancing women comes from this deep well of lived experience.

But for changes in any field to occur and to stick, pressure for that change also has to come from outside.

How women are changing GoDaddy

GapAppIt’s said that the job of advocates is to make it impossible for decision makers not to do the right thing.

Women customers had begun beating the bongos of change at a volume impossible to ignore. Many were quietly voting with their mouse clicks, moving over to other web hosts. My female journalist friends launched a campaign to move their own website hosting to other services.

When I posted on my Facebook page about GoDaddy’s sponsorship of the Close the Gap App, a young woman entrepreneur quickly let me know her university still won’t use GoDaddy’s services because of its founder’s highly publicized ultimate macho elephant killing escapades in 2011. There’s even a hashtag #breakupwithgodaddy.

And if anyone thinks it’s hard to affect large systemic change like Take The Lead’s goal of reaching leadership gender parity by 2025, look at GoDaddy. Women, as purchasers of 85% of consumer products, now very much possess of all the power we need to achieve whatever we want.

Whenever I tell audiences that it’s time to change the narrative about women’s leadership from problems to solutions, they cheer. There is a readiness as never before, and clearly there are male champions like Blake Irving who will — and do — use their power to drive that change forward.

Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning

This is part two in my three-part series about what the Affordable Health Care Act means in tangible terms to each of us. The first post in the series was Barbara O’Brien’s optimistic “Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody.” Today, in a post that originally appeared in the Women’s Review of Books blog, I address women’s health specifically in both a personal and political context.

Remember, that the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website, HealthCare.gov, on July 1 to help consumers wade through the new law’s provisions and how they will affect our access to health care. So do check that out, and as always, your comments and ideas are very welcome here.

Let me be clear: Had I been a member of Congress, I would have pressed the “yes” lever for the health-reform bill when it came down to the vote for final passage. It was incredibly important that we start somewhere to make health care accessible and affordable to all Americans. And we can celebrate, as Ms. magazine recounts in “What the Health Care Bill Means for Women,” that contraceptives will be covered, gender rating that discriminates against women has been eliminated, and preventive services such as pap smears will be covered without co-pay under the new plan.

But sometimes when you win you lose. Continue reading “Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning”

How an Insult Led to Title IX Law Giving Girls Equal Education Access

I’m a day late recognizing the 38th anniversary of Title IX.

But it’s never too late to give a big shout out to Bernice Sandler, the woman responsible for initiating the law that for almost four decades now–long enough to see significant benefits to girls and the women they become–from removing barriers to access to equity in school sports and educational opportunities that used to be denied to females based solely on gender.

How much has changed? Let me tell you this story: When my occasionally impolitic husband, Alex, asked a friend’s soccer ace 8-year-old daughter Emily whether she was a tomboy, Emily replied without a trace of self-consciousness: “What’s that?”

You can be sure women have made serious progress when even the language that would have defined an athletic girl as an aberration from her gender just a generation before has disappeared from the lexicon. Emily learned a bevy of leadership skills from the team sport, and has had the sort of experience that boys have been learning as a matter of course forever but only recently have been available to girls. Physical mastery, for starters. How to be competitive and collegial at the same time. Building a team and the power of teamwork. How to win gracefully, and that losing isn’t the same thing as defeat. Strategic thinking—just to name a few. That girls who play sports are somewhat more likely to get higher education and to work in high-skilled but previously male-dominated jobs suggests that these leadership competencies pay off over the long haul.

Bernice SandlerEmily gets to play soccer in school thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act to honor the late congresswoman who authored the law banning gender discrimination in federal funding of educational programs, including, for the first time, athletics. The impetus for this legislation came about when Bernice Sandler was turned down for a professor’s position. After a male faculty member told Sandler she hadn’t been hired because, “You come on too strong for a woman,” she realized she had no recourse against such discrimination unless new laws were written. Properly insulted, Sandler researched the laws and then located a supportive congresswoman to draft the remedy and champion it through to passage.

Gaining the right to an equal opportunity to play soccer is one thing. Choosing to take the opportunity to play is another. The same is true of all other opportunities women have today as a result of the trailblaing and door-opening done by generations of women before us.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate milestones: to make sure that Emily and her peers not only have the luxury of never thinking that playing sports makes them “tomboys” or in any way an aberration from the norm, but also so that they may learn their responsibility to ensure that future generations of girls and women can do the same.

Why Equal Pay Day 2010 Is Equal Power Day

Pick a number between one and fifty-one

If you picked one, you’ve picked the District of Columbia, where the median earnings gap between all men and women over age 16, employed in full-time, year –round jobs is narrowest: women earn 88 cents to a man’s dollar.  If you picked fifty-one, you’re in Wyoming, where women are paid just 64 cents to each smacker earned by a man.

If college education is factored in and you survey workers over 25, Wyoming leaps to first place at 88 cents, click image to take actionand Alaska slips to that 51st place at 64 cents for women to men’s dollar. Check out the AAUW’s information base on fair pay to find out where your state fits into the pecking order.

Today is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day happens in April because that’s how long it takes for the average woman to start earning a dollar for every dollar the man in the next cubicle over, doing the exact same job with the exact same title, makes.  Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early.  Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start.  Those blustery days in March when Spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come.  Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada.  That’s what pay disparity means.  And for women of color – black women and Hispanic women – the differential is even more extreme.

The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” But that’s not very funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of what your financial position might be.

To be sure, there is good news on the gender parity front overall. In 2010, women in the workforce for the first time outnumber men.  For the past three decades, more women have finished college than men, and more women get advanced degrees.

Pay Disparity = Power Disparity But somewhere between the classroom and the boardroom, these women are disappearing.   The higher you climb up the ladder of wealth and power, the fewer women you see.  Only 15 companies listed in the Fortune 500 are led by female CEOs. Of the wealthiest 400 Americans, according to Forbes, only 42 are women – and at least half of these women inherited their wealth from husbands or fathers.

No wonder then that among its list of the 67 most powerful people in the US, Forbes finds room for only four women.  And, although for the past two decades, approximately the same number of women and men have Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal paygraduated law school and entered law firms as first-year associates, a 2009 study by the National Association of Women Lawyers found that women still comprise fewer than 16 percent of the equity partners in the 200 top law firms in the U.S.  Even women who make partner are at a disadvantage, earning on average $66,000 a year less than their male counterparts.

Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal pay

As long as women are still being paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.

How to Take Action Now Despite the distance we have yet to go, there’s no denying that women have drawn closer to even with men in professional and economic matters.  But the continuing disparities make it imperative that we press Congress to pass and president Obama to sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that hard working Americans of both genders are paid fairly for their work.

A fundamental change occurs when women obtain the ability to earn a good, rewarding living at a fair wage. And it’s the first step toward women’s fair and equal representation in the highest levels of business and finance. Economic inequality narrows the possibilities we have to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, and create relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.  You know that’s what you want for yourself and for your daughters and granddaughters. And it’s what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively.

So on Equal Pay Day, take a moment to send a message by clicking here to your member of Congress urging him or her to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s the number one most important step you can take toward that goal today.

Historic Health Care Vote Leaves Women Feeling Shortchanged

After last night’s historic health care vote in the US House of Representatives, I feel a combination of relief that the (flawed but symbolically important) bill passed and fury that the ban on abortion coverage will not only remain but will remain by virtue of an executive order issued by the hand of a president who during his campaign pledged to repeal the Hyde anti-abortion coverage amendment. In my often expressed opinion, repeal of Hyde and full integration of reproductive health services including abortion is what the president and the pro-choice groups should have demanded in the first place. For if they had, we not would have ended up with this travesty for women’s health. The pro-choice women in the House fought hard, but without the president, Speaker Pelosi, and pro-choice groups standing firm behind them, they were left twisting in the wind.

Linda Lowen, who writes the Women’s Issues column at About.com, suggests that one intangible benefit to women will be a huge increase in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s stature and power. Jen Nedeau, who manages the Not Under the Bus campaign, describes a sense of betrayal shared by many—and how to move forward, in this exclusive written for the Women’s Media Center and reprinted with permission. Kindly scroll down to see one specific action you can take to help right the wrong done–and indeed the only action that can. Let me know your thoughts.

So this isn’t radical reform.  But it is major reform.  This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system.  But it moves us decisively in the right direction.  This is what change looks like.”—President Obama

So this is what change looks like? Throwing women’s rights under the bus in exchange for health care?

Something about this doesn’t feel like change. Something about this feels all too familiar. Once again, women’s rights are being used as a bargaining chip for political gain. Once again, the right to choose is not left in the hands of women, but left in the hands of male politicians who will never be faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Yes, it is true that Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked incredibly hard to get the votes to pass the bill that now makes it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against women with higher premiums than men or deny coverage to women who have had Caesarean sections or survived domestic violence.

Yes, it is true that bill will make health care more accessible for women and families across America by controlling costs and offering a public marketplace where those without insurance can buy their own affordable coverage.

However, these very important advancements cannot disguise two major attacks on women’s choice.

The first attack was passing a bill that contained Ben Nelson’s Manager’s Amendment.

The second attack is the Executive Order from the White House reaffirming the Hyde Amendment ban on federal funding of abortion and effectively extending it beyond its current application. In the Daily Beast, Dana Goldstein discusses how the “executive order enshrined the Hyde Amendment and expanded its reach into the new private insurance exchanges created by the health-care bill.”

At the end of the day, more than 30 million uninsured American’s can now have access to health reform, but it is abundantly clear women’s health is not considered a priority.

If you are a pro-choice advocate, this is not the change we hoped to see, particularly from a Democratic President and Democratic Majority Congress.

The bill that was passed contains language that has the potential to create a nation completely divided by access to abortion.  With the Nelson language intact, it is possible for abortion rights to be completely stripped from the hands of low-income women, who are disproportionately non-white, by the predominantly male-led state legislatures.

According to the Guttmacher Institute , “nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended and four in 10 of these end in abortion.” Guttmacher also reports that unintended pregnancies have increased by 29 percent among poor women while decreasing 20 percent among higher-income women.

As the bill stands at this point, if a state opts out of abortion coverage in the exchange, women who cannot afford a private insurance plan would have few viable options for seeking access to abortion. That means reproductive choice is no longer left with women individually, but given to the state. After last night’s historic vote, it may feel like the health care reform battle is over. But for millions of women across America, it has really just begun.

Today CREDO launched an action taking a firm stand against anti-choice Democrats who betrayed women across America saying, “It’s time for pro-choice donors and members of Congress to stop funneling money to the anti-choice candidates via the DCCC.”

You can sign CREDO’s petition and take the momentum of ”Yes We Can” pass health care to “Yes We Can” repeal the Hyde Amendment.

It is time to finally give women across America—not just those who can afford private health care, but every woman—a real choice when it comes to their body, their destiny and their future.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC.  WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

Why Hillary Will Lead More Women To Partake in Politics

Like Kristen said in her post at Girl With Pen, “Now That The Dust Has Settled (Sort Of)”, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president  is still fascinating to ponder. I was recently asked to write an article on the topic for the ILF Digest, the journal of  a think tank I’ve been a fellow of (I find this terminology amusing, but have never come up with an acceptable alternative—can you?) for some years. It won’t be published for a few weeks but I’d like to share an excerpt here because takes up where Kristen’s questions were leading:

Despite many problems with sexism in the culture and media that made themselves self-evident during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there are even more reasons to be optimistic that Clinton’s presidential run will be a net plus in motivating women to enter politics. I predict a sea change in women’s participation in politics up and down the ticket and in non-elective political roles as well, for these reasons:

1.    Seeing gives the potential for being. The message chanted at Clinton’s rallies: “Yes she can!” has clearly been delivered to younger generations.  All young girls hereafter will grow up knowing it is possible for a woman to be president.  And Clinton’s willingness to stay in the race despite all the challenges, despite constant calls for her to bow out, despite what must have been intense exhaustion and disappointment, is exactly what women of all ages with political aspirations need to see. In her speeches, she often mentioned “two groups who move me: women in their 80’s and 90’s who come out in walkers and wheelchairs and say they just want to live long enough to see a woman elected president, and families who bring their children and lean over and whisper in their daughter’s ear, ‘Honey you can be anything you want to be.’” Now they know they can.

2.    Women were energized as never before.  Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at a recent event sponsored by Lifetime Television, which along with three major women’s magazines has spearheaded a massive multimedia campaign called “Every Woman Counts”, that even though Clinton lost the primary campaign to Obama, “I think she lifted up the self esteem of women across the country, across the world.” Observing that Clinton raised $190 million in the primary race, Maloney said. “I think she helped all of us..”  One measure of how much she has helped women become more engaged in politics is that in past races, women’s financial contributions amounted to less than 30% of the total. For the first time, fueled by excitement over Clinton’s candidacy, half of the contributions to a presidential candidate came from women. And, in fact, over 40% of Obama’s contributions came from women as well, demonstrating women’s importance to the Democratic party and women’s understanding about the strategic importance of giving their fair share of the proverbial mother’s milk of politics in order to get their fair share of influence on the public policies they want. As North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue pointed out, “Everybody is involved in politics whether they realize it or not.” Since men have little motivation to change the power structure, women have little choice but to become the change we want to see. Clinton’s willingness to put herself out there will motivate more of us to try.

3.    Media sexism has been called out, and that roots it out. Rep. Maloney went on to say at the Lifetime event that there was “a big undercurrent of sexism, misogyny and stereotyping” against Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. But the point here is Maloney made her claims at a public, mainstream media-sponsored event. That would not have happened in the past. The nonprofit Women’s Media Center mounted a campaign called “Sexism Sells, but We’re not Buying It”  in collaboration with several media justice organizations They got the attention and the responses of major media executives and producers, as well as on-air apologies from Chris Matthews, David Schuster, and others. Even Katie Couric—too late, sadly, to make a difference in this year’s primary reporting but with luck influential enough to change the way women candidates are treated in the future—finally had enough and spoke out publicly on the subject. Change will be slow and imperfect, but it will happen.

4.    Hillary’s post-primary awakening led her to embrace her leadership role as a woman and on behalf of other women. Throughout the campaign, she downplayed the importance of her gender, saying as she did at her Beacon Theater birthday bash early in the campaign when she was still considered the front runner, “For me it is a great honor and humbling experience to be the first woman president. But I’m not running because I am a woman but because I am the most qualified. “ Since the campaign, she has been much quicker to champion women’s rights. For example, she led the charge to challenge the Bush administration’s proposed new regulations an-outrageous-attempt-bush-adminstration-undermine-womens-rights  that would redefine many birth control methods as abortion and allow medical providers to refuse to provide them. She seems to have learned a lesson about being her true self; other women will take courage from that.

At Hillary’s birthday event almost a year ago now,Elvis Costello performed to a standing ovation. Then the Wallflowers joined Elvis onstage; the decibel level elevated ten-fold, whipping this audience of aging rockers into frothy enthusiasm.

When comedian Billy Crystal came up to close the evening, little did he know just how prescient he was when he said, ““Hillary is making this campaign not so much for the old rockers but for the new ones.”