Inclusive Language at Okta

Empowering our people is one of Okta’s core company values. We are committed to building a truly diverse workforce that bolsters a culture of inclusion and belonging – and we believe this starts with the way we communicate with one another.

In 2020, Okta’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging team announced the launch of an Inclusive Language Project with the mission of ensuring that the words we use make everyone at Okta feel represented and respected. Since then, a cross-functional team has been hard at work to both remove usages of non-inclusive terminology from our code, products, and documentation and to promote a culture of inclusive language across the organization. 

What is Inclusive Language? 

Historically, certain language has stereotyped and/or excluded certain groups based on their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and various other identifiers. Inclusive language refers to words and phrases that are neutral, inclusive, and respectful to all identities. It is language that is not biased, discriminatory, offensive, or exclusive.

Why does it matter?

Research has repeatedly underscored the importance of inclusion and belonging in the workplace — employees need to feel respected by their colleagues and feel that they belong in order to be happy and productive at work. 

The words we choose to use impact our relationships – both personal and professional. They can help foster an environment that is psychologically safe and welcoming to all or one that is tense and exclusionary.  Given the nuance of our ever-evolving language systems, using inclusive terms can help attract and retain diverse top talent and a dynamic customer base, while using non-inclusive terms can alienate them. 

At Okta, we value people. We strive to provide our employees and customers with a safe and inclusive environment, and using inclusive language is critical in helping us meet that goal.

What have we done about it so far?

Alongside initiatives across many other tech companies to remove offensive software development terms like “master” and “slave” as a part of the Inclusive Language project, our Engineering team has been removing words and phrases from our product that are charged or have offensive connotations. This includes terms that are racist, gendered, ageist, ableist, or allude to other dominant non-inclusive practices. 

Over the past few years, we have aimed to embed inclusive language not only into our everyday conversations but also into our culture and practices. We’ve taken a two-pronged approach to meet this goal: first taking steps to retroactively fix the existing issues and in tandem, implementing strategies to help folks be more mindful of these terms in everyday use. 

Strategies for our product and code

  • Refactoring: Within Engineering, we’ve focused on removing negative terms — primarily master, slave, blacklist, and whitelist, and their derivative forms — from our products’ user interfaces, documentation, and internal codebases. So far, we’ve resolved 250+ tasks to this end.
  • Static code analysis: To prevent new non-compliant changes to our code bases, we’ve implemented checks and balances, such as linting tests and PMD enforcement for nine of our Java repositories. 

Strategies for our culture 

  • Inclusive Language training: We’ve created and rolled out Inclusive Language training for all Engineering new hires. The training highlights the importance of inclusive language, creates awareness around ongoing efforts, provides guidelines and resources, and recommends actions to help create an inclusive culture. 
  • Slackbot nudges: We spend a lot of time communicating using Slack, so what’s better than having Slackbot nudges to create awareness? When someone uses a restricted term in their Slack message, the Slackbot automatically sends a message with a list of alternative inclusive terms. As a result of these nudges, we’ve seen folks replace the restricted terms in their earlier message with inclusive terms. 
  • Precise Language workshops: Our Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging team routinely conducts Precise Language workshops, which are designed to help create a mindset of learning, identifying, and questioning the existing and often overlooked biases in everyday language. We discuss how to think about certain terms and phrases rather than what to think. 

A strong collaboration across teams, such as Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB); Engineering; Product; and many more made this change possible. We’re grateful for all the time and effort that everyone has invested and will continue to invest in this work.  

Why should you care?

Although many terms were previously ingrained into our codebases, wikis, tickets, and day-to-day conversations, we haven’t let this stop us. We understand that this is just the beginning and we have a long road ahead of us. And, we’ll continue working towards our commitment to building a truly diverse workforce.

As an Okta employee, customer, or partner, you can also be a steward and proponent of inclusive language at Okta. Taking these steps and continuing to invest in inclusive language improvements together is paramount for us to become an organization that truly values our people and strives toward inclusion.