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GoDaddy transformed its image on gender equality. Here's the CEO's take on Google's memo drama

Key Points
  • GoDaddy named operating chief Scott Wagner its new CEO.
  • Current CEO Blake Irving will retire at the end of this year.
  • Irving helped GoDaddy shake its sexist image.
It's a perfect time for me to move on to what's next for me: Outgoing GoDaddy CEO

Outgoing GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving has led teams at Yahoo, Microsoft, Compaq and Xerox. But perhaps his most famed accomplishment is getting rid of the bikinis.

GoDaddy's brand was once synonymous with scantily clad women in SuperBowl ads. Just after Irving became CEO, GoDaddy ran an ad showcasing the "sexy side" of the company — Israeli model Bar Refaeli in a pink dress and heels — and the "smart side" of the company, a male coder with a laptop.

Go Daddy CEO Blake Irving and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick at GoDaddy's IPO at the NYSE, April 1, 2015.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

"Coming into the company there were two different brand realities here," Irving told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Wednesday. "There was how the company was internally, where people were immensely proud of the work that they did, really in touch with customers, pretty good diversity within the company. Yet the way that we were projecting ourselves certainly didn't describe what was happening inside the company."

Irving is credited with turning GoDaddy into a top workplace for women in technology. He told CNBC on Tuesday that speaking at the Grace Hopper Conference, the pre-eminent conference for women in computing, in 2015, was the highlight of his tenure as CEO.

"We said, 'We're going to show women proudly as small-business people, fighting the good fight, running their business and working hard'," Irving said. "And frankly, it was a pretty easy pivot for us, because everybody inside the company supported it."

Not every company in Silicon Valley has had an easy time addressing the issues of gender parity, though. Allegations of sexual harassment at Uber led to a workplace investigation that purged many top employees.

And James Damore, then a Google engineer, outraged diversity advocates with a memo arguing that Google's approach to promoting women in technology was misguided. The Labor Department has also challenged Google for more information on pay parity.

"In the Valley, there's definitely an overall problem," Irving said. "It's starting to surface in really big ways today. It's a discussion. This has been going on in Silicon Valley for decades. Yet, it's actually being discussed a lot now and people are talking about it, and it's because people feel they can step up, discuss it, bring it to light. I know at Google it ended up in a termination, but honestly, at least folks are raising it."

GoDaddy named chief operating officer Scott Wagner its new CEO on Tuesday. Irving, who became CEO in 2012, will remain on the board through June 2018, the company said.

Despite openings at big technology companies such as Uber, Irving demurred when asked if he would consider another CEO gig.

"I've spent 35 years in tech; I've been married for 32 years," Irving said. "I think spending time with her and actually knocking off our bucket list is something that's really important to us."

— CNBC's Matthew Belvedere and Reuters contributed to this report.