GoDaddy’s culture has undergone a transformation for the better in recent years, thanks in no small part to Katee Van Horn, its VP of global engagement and inclusion.
Once known for its salacious television advertisements, the web hosting company made a deliberate choice about seven years ago to pull those ads and begin the process of shifting its internal culture, which was said to, in some ways, reflect the commercials.
Instead of waiting for a headline-grabbing scandal or a gender discrimination suit to force its hand, GoDaddy took the initiative itself, steered the Titanic away from the iceberg, and is now said to be one of the most female-friendly tech companies.
The New York Times detailed the transition in a piece titled "If GoDaddy Can Turn the Corner on Sexism, Who Can’t?," and it made clear that Van Horn played a large part in getting the company to where it is now.
Van Horn will be leaving the company shortly, but HR Dive caught up with her to find out what it took to right the ship. She joined GoDaddy around the same time it pulled the advertisements and moved up the ranks, eventually creating and earning her current position about a year and a half ago.
And she says the shift wasn’t just about avoiding lawsuits. Diversity drives innovation and, at the end of the day, that’s really what GoDaddy needs, Van Horn said; “We wanna build cool s***.”
A focus on the everyday
As the Times story notes, and as Van Horn says, a culture change requires a focus on the day-to-day events, the seemingly small interactions between employees.
Van Horn calls them “microinequities.” It’s when someone interrupts a coworker or takes credit for their idea. GoDaddy has tried to make leaders aware of how that looks and feels. Yes, those things are said to happen most often to women, but the idea applies to everyone, Van Horn said; “no one wants to be interrupted in a meeting.” Employees are encouraged to acknowledge their own biases and think about ways around them.
The company also has taken steps to encourage project leaders – not just team leaders – to lead presentations and be visible in other ways. This has brought more women and minorities into the spotlight. It allows them to demonstrate their contributions and have their work acknowledged.
Addressing these smaller issues enables workers to let their contributions to the workplace speak for themselves. “You can come to work and be yourself and know that [your] sex, race, sexual orientation … it doesn’t matter,” Van Horn said.
We spend a lot of time at work, she added. Employees should feel good, and feel good about the work they’re doing.
But GoDaddy also sought to address bias and discrimination in more direct ways, and on a larger scale.
To start, they stopped asking for salary history (a trend that is quickly becoming mandatory around the country). After the CEO saw two offers for comparable jobs, one for a man and one for a woman, he asked why the man’s offer was so much higher. The decision makers responded that the male applicant had simply asked for more money. Now, they’re working to address that. The CEO — who also is on his way out but has been instrumental in these changes, Van Horn says — calls it “paying it backwards;” women can leave their “compensation baggage” behind, she said.
“It’s just been a great way to stop the cycle of insanity,” she said of the self-imposed salary history ban. “We pay them what the job is worth.”
GoDaddy also insists that hiring managers begin with a diverse candidate slate: the interview process can’t proceed until there are at least two individuals who are female or minorities on the list. Research shows that if you start with a diverse slate, you’ll improve your diversity numbers, Van Horn said.
The final piece of the puzzle involved an overhaul of its performance review process, according to Van Horn. You can’t improve diversity with hiring alone, she said; hiring ten African-American women is great but if they don’t have a great experience and don’t have the opportunity to move up the ranks, they’re going to leave.
GoDaddy decided to examine how bias can creep into the performance review process. “Bias is in every people process because there’s people involved,” Van Horn said. And unconscious bias training is great but you can’t undo bias with one training; some people think they’re cured after one class, Van Horn observed, and others come out thinking they’re not part of the problem. “So instead, we decided to weave it into conversations with employees,” she said. They asked managers to really look at whether they evaluate men and women using the same criteria. For example, women are often judged based on communication and style, while men are often judged on what they’re getting done and how they’re doing it, Van Horn explained.
GoDaddy also stopped using the nine-box, which ranks employees based on a combination of performance and potential. The “potential” half was too susceptible to “like-me” bias, she said. Evaluators sometimes rank workers higher in potential if they went to the same school as them, for example. Instead, the company now focuses on what workers are getting done and how they’re getting it done. “Are they living our values?” Van Horn said, “Do they own their outcomes, join forces and work fearlessly?”
“We’ve had some really good movement in where people were placed pre and post these changes,” she said. “It gives everyone a more fair and consistent process.” And it’s not about giving women a leg up; it’s about ensuring that they’re evaluated fairly. For example, the changes also brought improved results for introverted employees, a trait especially prominent in GoDaddy’s engineering ranks, Van Horn noted.
“I’m at that point where my side hustle has taken over. I’m ready to go all-in."
Katee Van Horn
VP of Global Engagement and Inclusion, GoDaddy
Finally, the company adopted a practice called “promotion flagging.” Women are less likely to ask for a promotion or raise, and are less likely to receive feedback, Van Horn said, so the company sought to make them more visible to leadership. They settled on flagging: at certain intervals (18 months, for example, generally based on what level the employee is at), the manager gets a notification, or flag, that asks them whether a certain employee is ready for a promotion and, if not, asks them what feedback they’re giving that employee. That part is so important for retention, Van Horn said; “You want to know that you can get promoted.”
In the past year, this combination of changes has significantly improved the promotion rate for women at the company, without affecting the men’s rate.
For other HR professionals, Van Horn said her number one piece of advice is to listen to your people and get to know them. It’s great to do an engagement survey, she said, but if you’re not going to do anything with the results, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Start having conversations with employees. Feel comfortable not having all the answers, but be open to working to make things better.
You’re not going to have an unlimited budget; you’re not going to get an unlimited headcount in HR. But focus on what you can improve, Van Horn said. Even if you can’t do much now, make a roadmap. Determine what could make your employees’ experience better and work toward that.
And remember, no matter what industry you’re in, your employees are humans who have personal lives. Listen to them and, when there’s an issue, think about what the company can do to improve their experience, Van Horn said; “That’s where we win.”
For GoDaddy, these strides certainly don’t mean that the work is finished and that the workplace is free of bias. “I’m super proud of the work that’s been done,” Van Horn said, but she added that she’s looking forward to seeing the incoming CEO take the company to the next level.
That’s likely to include holding managers more accountable for what their teams look like, she said. It will include gender and racial diversity, of course, but also a new focus on LGBT employees.
For Van Horn, her next step is running her own consulting company — Bar the Door — full time. She’s been speaking and blogging and working with a few different clients for a while, and now, it’s time to take the leap. “I’m at that point where my side hustle has taken over,” she said. “I’m ready to go all-in.”