Launching the Equity Accelerator: Creating Pathways for BIPOC Talent in Tech

Last May, we launched Okta’s Equity Accelerator Program, a six-month, full-time, paid workforce development program. Its mandate is to expand economic opportunity for and with people from historically excluded and under-represented talent groups, with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) applicants with at least five years of experience. The program provides participants relevant work experience in their desired function and helps participants achieve technology and non-technology certifications. To foster mentorship within the program, Okta is partnering with CoLabL to help the fellows meet their professional development goals. 

Okta’s Workforce Development Program Manager, Jennifer Gutierrez-Caldwell, says Okta created the program “in 2020 when so many social and systemic inequities were brought to light. We have the power to make a difference not only at Okta but in our industry. We wanted to ensure that Okta was not just responding to the news cycle, but addressing systemic issues and creating more pathways for economic opportunities in tech for the BIPOC community.”

Throughout May, June, and July, Okta recruited and selected the four pilot program participants through a non-traditional selection process. Selections were made in collaboration with our five community program partners who helped us tap into this wider talent pool: COOP, Jopwell, Per Scholas, JVS, and Year Up.

Meet the fellows

In August, we were thrilled to onboard our inaugural cohort of four Equity Accelerator fellows. Meet them below and learn, from their own words, why they’re excited to play a part in Okta’s first Equity Accelerator program.

Eric Martinez Rodriguez is working as a Project Manager in the Sales organization.

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“The fellowship gave me a huge confidence boost and reassured me that I belong in tech and have a lot to offer. It has also given me exposure to other roles within tech that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to explore.”

Dee Walton is working as a Knowledge Management Specialist in the Marketing organization. 

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“I am most excited to be able to network with other individuals like myself, that are in underrepresented communities, to gain insight on careers we may not have known about. I am now able to get out of the phone support space and go after more exciting careers.”

Tye Fornay is working as an HRIS Analyst on the People team. 

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“This is a great opportunity to upskill through hands-on experience, and working with an extremely innovative tech company like Okta. Besides providing needed employment, this fellowship is providing me with excellent career advancement and expanding my professional network.”

Joseph Krikorian is working as a Support Operations Analyst on the Business Technology team.

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“This fellowship has sparked an even greater level of motivation in my life. I now feel as though my hard work is beginning to pay off and I will continue to demonstrate my dedication and eagerness to learn.”

Looking forward

Our goal is to scale our impact and continue centering around the voices of the fellows. Hosting these four incredibly talented fellows is just the beginning. This small sample size allows us to pilot our program internally and test our design. Through this pilot, we’ve had the opportunity to collect data that will help us with our internal recruitment efforts for the next cycle. Ultimately, we’re hoping to grow the number of fellows to sixteen. 

As we move forward, we know that striving towards true economic justice is a long game. So, during the next phase of the Equity Accelerator, we’re introducing a hiring pledge that, at the conclusion of the program, provides an option for every qualified fellow to convert to full-time employment. Our long-term goal is to scale on an even higher impact level, where we would partner with other tech companies to grow into a rotational fellowship across multiple organizations. 

Building Balanced Teams

Okta’s vision is to enable everyone to safely use any technology. One of the ways we’ll achieve that is by building equitable teams within Okta. This means recruiting diverse talent that reflects our community of partners, customers, and employees. 

And again, we’re looking beyond how this benefits Okta, but the effect on the entire tech sector. For participants, it means “the opportunity to break into the tech workforce,” Gutierrez-Caldwell explains. And for Okta, “The reality is that in order to hit our targets and achieve our long term strategic vision, we need to have balanced teams. The Equity Accelerator is a vehicle to get us there. It’s a way to “access all talent, and diversify our talent pool”—a crucial action toward our commitment to racial justice and equality

Interested in learning more about the Equity Accelerator or even getting involved? Contact us at [email protected]