Gender Ex Machina: Handling A Hot Topic With Cool Hands


It turns out that workplace policies which promote fairness & equality are also good for business - as GoDaddy found out.

Now's not the time to rehash yesterday's mistakes. It's time to act to make a positive impact on global competitiveness in tech. And GoDaddy just came up with a little policy innovation that's a darned good start.

Handling A Hot Topic With Cool Hands

The wounds from the “Google gender memo” are cutting deep through the media world, the social media world, and watercolor conversations everywhere. Should he have written it? Is he a “bad guy?” Is Google responding correctly? Should he have been fired? This article isn’t about any of that.

The topic of gender fairness in the tech workplace is too important to be reduced to sound-bites and a polarizing Twitter-storm. It needs a holistic and comprehensive approach to heal the divide that exists in our industry.

Some people think the topic of gender in the IT industry is important from a general diversity and social viewpoint. Others think that it’s important from a competitiveness, profitability, and “ignoring half the brain-power in the world” viewpoint. Really … the “why” is irrelevant because both viewpoints are important. No matter where you stand on the motivations behind the gender issue, there are some points that remain undisputed.

Points of Agreement

Here’s what nearly everyone in the world of IT agrees on:

  1. There’s a shortage of people who have the combination of aptitude, interest, and desire to work in tech – whether you are talking about networking, coding, technical support, project management, leadership, or any other tech profession.
  2. This shortage keeps companies and economies from growing and innovating as quickly as they could.
  3. If you have that special combination of aptitude, interest, and desire to be in the tech world, no company policy, social pressure, or unfair discrimination should get in the way of you learning your craft and building a future for yourself in tech.

Accepting the points above, it’s a simple matter of economics. Once companies and individuals recognize points 1 and 2, they can address the issues in point 3. By resolving those issues, they become more competitive in the marketplace and in recruiting talent. It’s only in the “what to do about it” category that things get sticky.

Simply stated, there’s only one way to ensure that you have the “best and brightest” employees. You’ve got to ensure that “best” and “brightest” are the only criteria you use in your hiring process and then treat everyone fairly while making them feel welcome.

Has Progress Been Made?

Yes. It’s important to recognize companies and industries that have made progress – something that we don’t do often enough. For example, in the US gender has become irrelevant among pharmacists – a high-paying, technical profession where women now account for 60% of the workforce. And the BBC recently recognized that they had accomplished the goal of equal pay per position, but still needed to remove barriers to career advancement.

In fact, there is growing evidence that a lot of the work that remains to be done is in retention and advancement opportunities. Certainly, there are still gender bias issues influencing promotions into leadership positions. But there are also structural things to look at as well. Things like legacy policies that – though maybe not intentionally biased – might create those kinds of obstacles.

What’s A Good Tech Company To Do?

GoDaddy asked themselves these questions. Katee Van Horn – VP of Global Engagement & Inclusion for GoDaddy – will be speaking at WHD.usa 2017 about what they came up with. And … it’s pretty cool stuff, even drawing the attention of major media outlets.

GoDaddy looked at their “Maternity Leave” policy and realized that even the name of the policy was problematic. Katee is going to go into all the details in her presentation. But they dug deeply to find all the ways that their existing policy could be improved for female staff, and – in some cases – may have overlooked the needs of fathers and alternative families. These are the kinds of things which could hurt productivity and retention. They designed a solution that solved these issues, implemented the new polices, then measured the results.

It’s All In The Numbers

Like all good ideas, that bit of out-of-the-box thinking at GoDaddy seems obvious in retrospect. It had a VERY low financial impact to the organization, but yielded large advancements in employee productivity, retention, and satisfaction. Importantly, since GoDaddy is a fast-growing, international organization, it makes them more competitive globally as well. The best part is that it’s exactly the kind of policy innovation that every tech company can do.

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