From partnering with our CEO, to coaching other executive assistants, Tanya Benvenuto, Okta’s director and chief executive assistant, embodies the power of supporting others. In this edition of Your Story Inspires, Tanya shares how she pushed through the challenge of being a young, single parent with the help of her mentor, and how she uses that positive mentorship experience to guide others.
Where did you grow up? What were the most formative traditions in your early childhood?
I grew up in Redwood City, California. It was so important to my parents that I get a good education, they used someone else’s address to send me to a better school, outside our district. We had a long commute, but this choice was critical in setting up a foundation for my success.
My family didn’t have much money, so as soon as I had a work permit, I worked every school break. It benefitted me to start work at such a young age, giving me valuable work/life experience. I had a resume, knew how to interview, and learned the importance of a strong work ethic. When I got my first career-changing job at Merrill Lynch, I was the youngest person in my position, but I had the experience and maturity to be successful.
Do you have any mentors or individuals you feel particularly grateful for in your journey?
I’m very grateful to my Advanced Standing English teacher in high school. In my sophomore year, I stopped caring about school and didn’t go to class, so my teacher called my dad. She told him that I had a lot of potential, but I was letting my grades slip, not putting in the effort. When she took that extra step, I realized that she cared about me as a person, not just another student. She was biracial like me, so when I approached her about the phone call, she said she didn’t want to see a minority with such potential fail.
She took me under her wing, letting me babysit her kids to earn money and pushed me to put my efforts into school. From then on, I did well—I didn’t want to let her down. And I gradually became a part of her family; she calls me her daughter, her kids call me their sibling, she’s the godmother to my son! Despite having three kids of her own, she helped me get through college. And when I was struggling to afford it and raise my son, she was there to keep me going.
Having such a positive mentor in my life has motivated me to be the same for others. When I see the potential in others, I try to assist. In my former job, I created a global mentorship program, I coach some of Okta’s executive assistants, and I even inspired my personal trainer to go back to school.
My advice for those looking for a mentor is that it often happens holistically; get to know each other. It has to go both ways! To be successful, both the mentee and the mentor must believe in the relationship. I’m fortunate to have worked with amazing executives who believed in me and saw my potential. They were all mentors to me—and some of my biggest fans.
What are some notable personal and professional milestones in your life?
I had my son at 17. At such a young age, I faced doubt, ridicule, and judgment. I knew there would be obstacles but was determined to not be a statistic. For my son, I wanted the same quality of life a more established home could provide. I didn’t believe in having other family members take care of my child because he’s my responsibility—no one else's. It was hard, but I pushed through and graduated from college by working full time during the day, then going to school at night. There were times I had good excuses to quit, but I never did.
Today, I am married and have two kids. I juggle the challenges of being fully present both at Okta and at home, as supporting the CEO, being a spouse, and being a parent are all big jobs! I make sure that Todd McKinnon and my family all know they have my undivided attention. My son is now in college and is an All-American track athlete and my five-year-old daughter is a dancer and gymnast, and I never miss one of their events. I wear several hats!
What is your mantra for dealing with difficult challenges?
No excuses. Everyone goes through hard times, but we all need to address problems head on. My mantra is: go to it and through it. I use negative circumstances to push me forward. I worked hard to be who I am today, and I hold others to the same high standard.
How does Okta help you balance your work and home life? What advice do you have for other working parents?
Okta provides me with great work life balance. Work is getting done around the clock, but because of our product, I’m able to work wherever I am—my son’s track meet, my daughter’s dance class, anywhere. As a parent himself, Todd understands my family values. He supports my focus on family and never doubts my work ethic. We’ve been working together for over four years now, and we have a partnership. If he knows he needs to do something to help me out, he always does.
I want to inspire young and single parents to keep going, to work through the roadblocks with determination, strength, and perseverance. I’ve had jobs where I was chained to my desk with 8 hours to get my work done. When I went home to my family, my day was just starting. It was a challenging time, but it all eventually led me here, to Okta.
If you could time travel, where would you go and why?
Right where I am! I’m grateful to be here, working for an outstanding CEO, at a company I care for deeply. Todd has so much compassion, understands our worth, and values me as a person. He allows me to have a seat at the table and is always empowering me. We also both recognize the importance of family, so I can be honest with him about my home life, and he does the same with me. Not many CEOs have these positive qualities and believe in their employees the way that Todd does. It’s truly the best of both worlds—I wouldn’t change a thing!
Tanya is always there to support others and she inspires us to do the same. Learn how you can join her and #lifeatOkta, check out our vision and core values, or stay tuned for the next inspiring story.