At Okta, your identity is a big deal. In our new series, Your Story Inspires, we’re sharing the personal and professional journeys of the Okta community, showcasing all our unique experiences, and how each one inspires us. We’ll focus on Oktanauts from all backgrounds, getting their take on navigating personal and professional journeys, and fostering a deeper sense of inclusion and belonging within their Okta teams.
In our inaugural post, we are thrilled to introduce Corey Rawdon, Okta’s director of database marketing and co-chair of [email protected], an employee resource group dedicated to providing support, resources, social, and networking opportunities for the LGBTQ community and their allies.
Read on to learn about Corey’s lessons from time spent gardening, his personal and professional milestones, and how he removes and mitigates his own biases in the workplace.
Can you tell us about where you grew up and the formative traditions you experienced as a child?
I was born and raised in rural West Tennessee, surrounded by a large contingent of my family within a 5-road radius (even more within a 20 minute drive!) and fields of farmland. Two childhood memories, in particular, stand out to me: spending every summer working in my granny’s garden planting, growing, and picking tomatoes (and eating as many as I could off the vine with my hidden salt shaker in tow!). And spending every Christmas at my grandmother’s house being, as the youngest grandchild, the de facto Christmas-present-distributor.
While early-summer wake-up calls to tend the garden were less than enjoyable at the time, I still grow tomatoes to this day. Oh how I miss those days working in the garden now! I have also carried my love of Christmas, and those memories of annual family gatherings…. (Currently, this takes the form of a photo of Rudolph as my phone background, and an embarrassingly large amount of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer postage stamps.) These early childhood experiences taught me the value of finding your people to share life’s experiences with, and to be your true self, always.
When not helping in the garden or spending time with family, what subjects interested you in school?
Very early on I was fascinated by the arts and sciences, and disinterested in english and history. “Who needs history when we are living in the future?” was my thinking at the time. My early interest in the sciences pushed me to begin exploring the relationships between “objects” and how those relationships could be shaped for specific outcomes. This lead me to a 2nd-place win in my quad-state, elementary school science fair with a project exploring how you can manipulate a medium to increase/decrease its cation-exchange capacity (CEC). In some ways, this was a precursor to my work at Okta, where my team and I are working to use the data within our database to develop targeted and effective marketing programs.
What milestones in your professional and/or personal life are important for you?
There are a number of milestones that come to mind. A professional milestone that was really important to me was the first time I spoke on the Dreamforce stage. It’s one thing to be proud of the work your teams’ have done. It is another to be on stage in front of hundreds of people telling their story and watching people be proud of, and interested in that same work. I am never more proud than when I am storytelling the accomplishments of others.
Another milestone that stands out is my move to London in 2007. This was my first trip outside of the States and it was a big one, as I was tasked with opening my company’s first international office. This move brought me my love for the art of tea, a keen understanding of business financials, and my first chance to work with, and appreciate, colleagues who have a background different than my own.
A personal milestone was when my niece was the flower girl at my wedding. Seeing my niece celebrate the love of my now husband and me—and being stingy with the flowers—showed me, first hand, how strong the bonds of love can be.
How do you think your gender/ethnic/racial identity has impacted your professional experiences? What’s your response to the presence or absence of privileges that come with our identities?
As a cis, white male, I often have a default privilege that assigns me preference over someone else. Through my own experiences, professional coaching, and the storytelling of others, I rally against this whenever I can—even in small ways, and I constantly strive to improve.
As an example, when I fill out an interview scorecard for someone I say “the candidate” or “they” instead of an assumed pronoun for the candidate’s name. I focus only on the interview and my assessment of the skillset, and am careful to proactively remove a trigger for bias for anyone reading my feedback.
Do you have suggestions for emerging professionals who may be trying to balance their individual identities in today’s competitive workplace?
I recognize my privilege in saying this as someone who has already enjoyed success in the corporate world, but I believe you should be you, always.
In this highly competitive market, knowing who you are, and being open to improving while never compromising yourself, is such a rare trait that is highly valuable.
Additional comments/thoughts you’d like to share?
Remember the It Gets Better videos? I promise that it's true—no matter what discrimination or internal/external challenges you are facing, it does get better. More importantly though, I would tell you that YOU can make it better. Stand up for yourself and others—at your level of comfort—and fight in small ways. You can, and do, make a difference.