Empowering encounters: Celebrating women in engineering

At Okta, we firmly believe in the power of diversity and inclusivity to drive innovation and success. Recently, our Women in Technology group had the privilege of organizing an extraordinary event for women on our Workforce Identity Cloud (WIC) Engineering team that celebrated the incredible women on our team and paved the way for future growth and inclusion. We're thrilled to share the highlights of this event with you.

Stepping away from the confines of a pandemic-induced lockdown and into the enchanting realm of live gatherings, this event became a voyage of self-discovery, resilience, and unity. 

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Building community 

One of the primary goals of the event was to bring together the remarkable women across our engineering team to build community and establish new connections. There was a buzz of excitement as everyone gathered in Okta’s San Francisco HQ, creating a lively atmosphere that carried us through the event. Many attendees traveled from other continents and were able to meet each other for the first time. The day offered numerous chances to engage in casual conversations with new acquaintances, exchange stories, and foster connections. 

Empowerment and inspiration

The theme of this event was “Navigating your Career Compass.” In addition to bringing our women in Engineering together, we wanted everyone to walk away feeling inspired and with a sense of agency and ownership over their careers. Our event kicked off with words from Abhi Sawant, CTO of Okta’s WIC, who enthusiastically set the tone for the event and underscored his commitment to driving diversity and inclusion within Okta’s Engineering org. 

Honoring the event’s theme, we wanted to inspire the audience with some stories from Okta’s leaders. Our first session was a fireside chat with our CEO, Todd McKinnon, hosted by one of our Engineering directors, Vrushali Channapattan. Rather than focusing on his role as Okta’s CEO, we wanted to delve into Todd’s experiences as an engineer (one of us!), the challenges he overcame, and how he ultimately progressed into a leadership role. Hearing about his remarkable journey left us feeling motivated and ready to take on our challenges. 

We also heard from our CIO, Alvina Antar, in a fireside chat with another one of our Engineering directors, Smitha Prasad. With her wealth of experience as a leader in the tech industry, Alvina offered valuable perspectives and advice, further empowering our female engineers to overcome challenges and embrace opportunities. Smitha and Alvina discussed everything from the new “Barbie” movie to advice about establishing a support network, professionally and personally. 

Amplifying voices and driving change

With this gathering, we also wanted to harness the power of constructive feedback as a catalyst for driving change. We transitioned to roundtable discussions in small group settings. Facilitated by a representative from our People team, the groups openly engaged in honest dialogue about their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for improvement. These discussions strengthened our collective bond and allowed us to gather anonymous feedback, which we synthesized for review by key leaders so they can drive awareness and change to strengthen the culture of representation and inclusion further. The review happened with our CTO and engineering leaders and with leaders from cross-functional teams like People Business Partner; Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; and Employee Relations and Talent Management.

“I felt comfortable sharing feedback and listening to others' feedback. Also, having a debrief at the end with leadership was an immediate, powerful follow-up. I would love to see more roundtable sessions in the future!” - Event attendee

From these discussions, several themes emerged:

  • Career advancement
  • Fostering safe and inclusive spaces
  • Enhancing representation within engineering and beyond

We provided our leaders with an opportunity to respond to the feedback and offer their insights on these themes in front of the larger group. The session evolved into an open dialogue, and it became evident that the entire group felt their leaders heard their voices and were wholeheartedly invested in bringing meaningful impact. 

We concluded the day on an optimistic note, fully aware that there's substantial work ahead of us but encouraged by the unwavering commitment of our leaders to enact positive change.

Professional growth

Another central component was a focus on career development. For many individual contributors early on in their careers, the various paths to leadership can seem opaque. Questions like “Should I become a manager?” or “Should I stay technical and move toward an architect role?” can be perplexing. To provide clarity on these career paths, we assembled a panel of Engineering architects, managers, directors, and VPs. The stories shared by these panelists resonated with ICs and managers alike, inspiring us to reflect on our  journeys and think about our next steps for growth. 

In the same spirit of promoting professional development, we had the privilege of hosting Andrea Garfield, an executive coach and the CEO and Founder of the Awesome Institute. Andrea led an insightful workshop on honing career skills. The workshop focused on identifying our strengths and weaknesses, understanding our emotions at work, and mastering the art of giving and receiving feedback. We worked in pairs and small groups, encouraging participants to interact with new faces and build new connections.

Celebrating new connections

Following a day filled with learning and emotional connection, the second day of the event carried forward the theme of empowerment but with a delightful twist — an oceanic outing. Attendees embarked on a ferry ride over the ocean, soaking in breathtaking views and the invigorating sea breeze. The journey led us to a picturesque restaurant, where we enjoyed a delightful meal while surrounded by fellow women engineers. This change of setting fostered a sense of unity and camaraderie that transcended professional boundaries.The outing was not just a scenic escapade; it was a tangible manifestation of the connections formed during the event. Conversations flowed freely, with attendees sharing personal anecdotes, discussing future collaborations, and building a support system that will extend well beyond this event.  

Empowered and united

The Women in Engineering event was a tapestry of empowerment, authenticity, and unity. It was more than just a one-time celebration; it was a spark for lasting change. The event's meticulously planned sessions and the oceanic outing demonstrated that empowerment isn't just about sessions and discussions; it's about fostering connections, sharing vulnerabilities, and creating a community that uplifts and supports each other. 

We are committed to leveraging the valuable feedback we received to further enhance gender diversity and inclusivity within Okta Engineering. The momentum generated by this event will drive our continuous efforts to create a workplace where all engineers thrive and succeed.

As attendees bid farewell to the event, they carried with them more than just memories — they carried a renewed sense of purpose, a strengthened belief in their capabilities, and a network of inspiring women ready to conquer challenges together. 

“This is an awesome experience. I felt more connected to Okta in general. Despite gender, as an individual, I got a better understanding of current structure and culture at Okta and have a clearer sense about what I can do better myself. I was amazed by all the stories and insights shared in small or large groups, all the different perspectives gave me positive energy. “ - Event attendee

Thank you to everyone who participated, supported, and contributed to this remarkable day. We would like to convey special thanks to the core committee: Megan Healy, Michael Brooks, Matt Lee, and Charmy Ruparel for helping us make this happen. Together, we are shaping a more inclusive and innovative future at Okta Engineering. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue our journey toward a more diverse and thriving tech community.

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