Blake Irving, the CEO of web-hosting giant GoDaddy, has an important message for men in leadership: It's time to commit to gender equality.

"Can I be a feminist? Why not?... I'm sure I have bias, but the way that I grew up, my Dad was an FBI agent, but my Mom ran the house.... I'm for equality, I'm for women's rights, and that's my job," he told Inc. in a sit-down interview on Tuesday.

Irving is also an executive producer for the new documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Sunday. Produced over the course of 14 months, the film offers an unscripted and critical look at the lack of gender diversity in the technology sector. Director and producer Robin Hauser Reynolds--whose previous credits include the documentary Running for Jim--interviewed figures like White House CTO Megan Smith, "The Innovators" author Walter Isaacson, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, along with myriad women engineers and girls involved with computer science. 

Irving, for his part, has a major stake in the issue. He said that he's deeply inspired by his sister, Lori Irving, who was a social psychologist and leading researcher on how the media affects women's self esteem. She died around 15 years ago.  

"When she passed away, my pledge to her was to do everything I can for women in my chosen field," he said. "I'd seen the trailer [for the film], and I think it's something that should be discussed openly and isn't. I look at the work that Robin's doing with this film and think it's an opportunity to build mass understanding of the issue and start moving in the direction of the solution." 

Irving also upheld his pledge to his sister on the corporate side: Since joining GoDaddy in 2013, he began a major diversity push to change the company's long-standing sexist reputation. Up until then, GoDaddy's advertisements had often featured scantily clad women and raunchy humor. To that end, Irving put programs in place to promote conversation within company, such as unconscious bias training and the GoDaddy Women in Technology network. He also brought on GoDaddy's first female board member, Betsy Rafael, in 2014. The company now has 40 percent women in its internship program alone, which is up from 14 percent when Irving first started. "I still get choked up when I think about it," he said, reflecting on how differently GoDaddy markets itself today: It's done away with racy advertisements and now focuses largely on small business themes. 

Hauser Reynolds had a similarly personal reason for undertaking the project: She has a daughter interested in computers, but who dropped the major in college because she said she was too intimated by the (predominately male) class. 

Studies show that computer science is one of the fastest growing industries: By 2020, there will be one million programmer jobs in the U.S., but not enough talent to fill them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "It was fascinating to me this supply and demand imbalance," Hauser Reynolds said.

As the documentary exposes the systemic gender discrimination preventing women from learning to code--including such factors as overly intimidating classrooms, and underestimating women's abilities from an early age--it also suggests that things don't have to be this way. A cursory glance into the history of the computer, for example in scenes about the mathematician Ada Lovelace, the computer scientist Grace Hopper, and Glamour magazine's exposé on the "computer girls," shows that women are already making their mark on the engineering industry. The question is how to encourage more of them to do so.

"The documentary isn't going to change the world, but hopefully it's going to reach an audience that didn't know that they cared about [the issue,]" Hauser Reynolds said. 

That, significantly, includes people at places like GoDaddy: "This was the company that was there when I got there," said Irving of the company's internal culture, "We just had to bring it out."

Published on: Apr 22, 2015