Thank you Liz for your thoughtful questions on why I’m participating in the “Allies Panel” at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women next week.  Instead of trying to answer them all in 140 characters or less on Twitter, I’ve opted to answer them here as a Q&A. I’ve included your questions verbatim:

Q: I want to take you seriously for a minute. How could you think that a conf that’s 99% women needs to hear you on this?
A: I believe strongly that it’s going to take all of us to close the glaring (and growing) gender diversity gap in technology.  I don’t see it as a women’s problem, I see it as a human problem—and lessening that disparity will not only make tech a better (and more innovative) industry, it will make the world a better place for all of us to live.  I’ve worked in technology for a long time, including leadership roles at both Microsoft and Yahoo! and I’ve always considered it part of my responsibility as a leader to set an example in the organizations I lead, to vocalize where there is success and to ask (and listen for) help. I am proud to stand alongside a number of women and men who care deeply about this topic and believe together we can increase the number of women in technology.

Nothing about taking the helm of GoDaddy last year signaled to me that I should care (or try) any less to effect change in this industry.  In fact, it was a signal to me that I had an even greater opportunity—and thus a greater obligation—to make a difference.  I want to tell my personal story at the Grace Hopper Celebration and I want to tell attendees there that I intend to make GoDaddy not only a great place for all technologists to work—regardless of their gender, orientation, or creed, but also to change the public language of the company in the advocacy of women.  I would like the GHC attendees to consider that if a company as maligned on womens’ image in the media can change dramatically – then it’s completely possible to change the trajectory of advocacy and equality in the world.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show some humility on the subject? And be an ally by listening more?
The mere fact that gender diversity seems to be worsening across tech calls for the fact that all of us need to approach this subject with humility.  We’ve all been failing—at least on a macro level.  That is incredibly humbling.  That said, I don’t think that spending a few minutes with others on stage sharing my story lessens my ability to listen, and learn about this subject.  I set out to do exactly that every day—in real life and on places like Twitter.  At GoDaddy, we’ve created an active Women in Technology group with a strong voice.  We’ve had a number of amazing speakers come to bring our employees into the conversation.  I’ve learned a lot from these amazing leaders, including Maria Klawe, and I’m continuing to listen and learn.

There is another way to interpret “be humble and listen more.”  Namely, “be silent and invisible” because “you’re not welcome in the conversation.”  I hope that’s not what you mean and so I won’t interpret it that way.  I have seen quite a lot of that approach on Twitter and I find it disheartening.  Suggestions like that of Shanley Kane to “sit down and shut the fuck up. write checks and SHUT YOUR FACE” are so venomous that I can’t imagine how to move the conversation forward after them.  I don’t think we’ll ever improve the human condition if we self-identify into sides and then insist (or force) one side into silence.  I recognize that this has happened a lot in humanity’s past—let’s leave it there and build a future where we all have a voice.  I’ve been a part of this conversation with a number of outstanding women and men for a very long time and I care about it personally, so it is my hope that together we can have affect the change we are going after.

Q: Better yet, go tell your story of how awesome transformation is possible, to some other dudes in our field.
A: I’m not attending the Grace Hopper celebration to brag about my success.  I’m there to hear new ideas, to share my personal story and to be part of a solution that requires all of us for its success.  My hope is that my presence there will inspire “other dudes” in tech to follow suit and also work for real, lasting change.

There are some who don’t want me there because of my new(ish) role as GoDaddy’s chief exec.  Those people tell me that the company’s past transgressions are unforgivable—even when the past leadership team has been replaced.  Their position reminds me of a neighbor I once had who would never buy a Japanese car because he was still angry about WWII and nothing anyone said could ever change that.  It didn’t matter to him that the rest of the world saw the post war change and reform in Japan and worked to build a new world together—he was not willing to “give up the enemy” for any cost.

To those that hold this view of GoDaddy, I can only say “I get it.”  I get the anger and I get that some people will never be able to put down their hate and pick up the tools needed to work together to make the world a better place.  That’s tragic, but I understand, and am happy that the majority of people are not in that same headspace.  I joined GoDaddy because I saw a tremendous good and a potential for even greater good—hidden behind a controversial brand with years of shocking advertising.  I saw that those ads didn’t represent who the company really was and who we fight for.  Over 50% of our customers are women, but even if that number was 0% I would have still made the change.  Our vision is to radically shift the global economy toward small business by helping individuals easily start, confidently grow and successfully run their own ventures.  It’s a noble goal and one every employee in GoDaddy believes in. It is certainly a goal worth pushing through past perceptions.

Q: What you are doing here sounds awfully like telling a lot of women why they should be giving you a “feminist cookie” reward
A: When I say that I’ve been working to change GoDaddy from the inside out, it’s not to earn kudos from any community.  I say it in direct response to those who suggest that I have some personal culpability, and need to apologize for, advertising that I was never a part of.  Were GoDaddy’s ads viewed by women as crude and objectifying?  Yes.  Was changing the way we advertise one of the first things I did when I took the helm? Yes.  All I can do is make sure that the organization I lead is on the side of right while I lead them—and I’m working hard to make sure that remains true.  Of course, in the entire tech world, the issues with gender diversity are much deeper than just brands and advertising.  I’m dedicated to helping ferret out the subtle biases in our industry and working with women to create environments where they can do their best work.  I’ve read about your work creating harassment-free hacker spaces for women.  I’d love to understand more about what you’ve learned and what tech companies could learn from those lessons.

Q: It is like you want to boast how helpy you were and get a pat on the head by the people you think you have helped, while paying them to pat you on the head. I think that is essentially repugnant.
A: Liz, we agree on this one.  If anyone were to “payoff” a women’s group with the expectation that the group publicly praise them, that would indeed be repugnant.  There is another possible answer in this case: which is that I’m truly committed to change, both in the company I now lead and in the tech community at large; that I’m supporting groups and issues I care deeply about; and that I share this information publically in hopes that others will join in the march toward progress.  I don’t feel I’ve said or done anything to give you reason to doubt my sincerity.  I hope you’ll continue with me in the conversation and let me prove to you my intentions.  I also know if you ask around and talk to other women who personally know my history and story here, you’ll have a better understanding of who I am and why I’m doing this.  You can ask @tellewhitney, @mariaklawe, @elisasteele, @lisastone, to name a few.

Q: Leaving aside the entire question of whether you have even done anything massively transformative which I hope you have.
A: Margaret Mead famously said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  I’m not in this alone, and I’m surrounded by people at GoDaddy who believe that we can make a massive difference for our very small business customers, our GoDaddy employees, and for the way women are portrayed in the media.

Q: Do you also think that YOU did it? You want all the credit for that? Building on other people’s activism much there?
A: I’m sorry, I don’t know what the “it” is in your question so I’m not sure what credit I’m supposed to be taking here.  If you’re referring to me being the son and brother of feminists, I only mean to say that I was raised as a feminist and consider myself an equalist (one who supports equality for all people) for as long as I can remember having thoughts on the matter.  These are lifelong convictions vs. turning over a new leaf—as some assume who mistakenly think I’ve spent the entirety of my career as GoDaddy’s leader.  If there is any credit to be given for my perspective, it’s to be given to my sister Lori Irving, who was lost to complications from pregnancy 13 years ago.  In life, she was a groundbreaking psychologist who spent her career analyzing the effects of the media on women’s body image and self-esteem and she was a force for change and for good.  She truly opened my eyes to powerful consequences of bias in the workplace and in media—and for that I owe her a debt of gratitude that unfortunately I’ll never be able to pay.  Please read about her and you might gain a bit more understanding about me and my motivations:

Liz, I want to thank you for furthering the conversation.  I appreciate what you do for your community and I’m fueled by your openness to a dialogue on this admittedly charged subject.

Photo: NERSC

2 thoughts on “A Thoughtful Minute for Liz Henry

  1. Thank you Blake. I worked at GoDaddy for 7 years and I loved all the people I worked with and it was disheartening to know that how we were portrayed through the ads was not at all how we were in real life.

    I thank you for not rising to the emotional charged speak but to give thoughtful and rational reasons for what this conversation is important.

  2. Really nice conversation on the tech generation on female. By placing with this we can understand and we can interact with the doubts we are having. And this posts was really nice so please keep update like this.

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