The State of Inclusion at Okta: Working to integrate equity

Today, we released our fourth State of Inclusion report, an annual report in which we share an overview of our current workforce demographics and Okta’s collective Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) efforts. At Okta, we believe DIB is a shared responsibility of all Oktanauts, and this report is a culmination of the efforts of so many people, teams, communities, and leaders with whom we are proud to be on this journey. This report is a benchmarking resource used to look back at the progress we’ve made and, more importantly, identify areas of improvement and opportunities to make meaningful and long-term changes year after year. 

Change has been a major theme over the past few years. Companies shifted strategies and priorities following the social unrest stemming from the events of 2020, the post-COVID era, and continued economic uncertainties. We’ve learned that change is here to stay, and we have the  opportunity to adapt, shed the status quo, and continue to view things from a systems level. That’s how we’ll truly be able to move the needle.

Along the theme of change, Lynnetta Smith (she/her) joined Okta in January as the Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB), and we’re thrilled to have her here and continue our journey towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. I sat down with Lynnetta and our Chief People and Places Officer, Vijay Rao (he/him), to discuss Okta’s current state, what Okta is doing to create impactful change, and specific focus areas for the year ahead. Check out our conversation below.

Reflecting on the past year, what major themes have you observed at Okta, and how have they influenced the way Okta operates?

Vijay: The last year brought into focus a lot of key opportunities to continue to prioritize being an employer of choice and to meet our vision to free everyone to safely use any technology. As you’ll read in our State of Inclusion report, we have launched our Cybersecurity Workforce Development Initiative, expanded our Employee Resource Groups, enhanced our Total Rewards offerings, and committed to re-designing the People journey with a focus on embedding DIB across the entire employee lifecycle. While our representation has dropped in some areas, we have seen positive trends in other areas, which informs our decisions as we build more balanced teams. We are also adapting to the current macroeconomic environment, and as a result, we are being more strategic about the areas of the business we invest in. Amongst many difficult decisions around investments, managing costs, and shifting priorities towards profitable growth, we made the difficult decision to make a workforce reduction in early February. The data reflecting this will be represented in next year’s report, as the data in this year’s report is a single point of time on January 31, 2024. Actions like this are never easy, but we remain confident that this, along with our other commitments and investments, will set us up for long-term success. DIB continues to be one of those areas that we are committed to and will continue to invest in.  

Based on your experience and observations, what emerging trends do you see shaping the future of our industry, specifically in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space?

Lynnetta: I see several trends emerging, both favorable and unfavorable. Unfortunately, we are seeing some companies deprioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) due to various factors, such as shifts in organizational priorities, budget restraints, or a lack of understanding around the importance of this work. However, we also see companies regrouping for a continued focus and commitment to hiring for better representation and building inclusive cultures through continued investment in mentorship and sponsorship of underrepresented groups, training, and Employee Resource Groups. Other trends revolve around remote and flexible work and the opportunity we have to enhance inclusivity in these policies. Finally, as we continue to develop and embrace AI, we will see an increased focus on mitigating algorithmic bias in AI systems to ensure fair and equitable outcomes.

You’ve been with Okta for about two months now and have had the chance to meet a lot of folks, learn about Okta’s processes, and dive into our State of Inclusion Report. What are your thoughts? What are some of the opportunities you can see?

Lynnetta: I was really pleased to see all the great work and the foundation that has been built prior to joining Okta. This solid foundation sets us up to continue to build and find ways to embed this work in everything we do. There are areas of opportunity, of course. You will see in the report that representation is a continued area of focus for us. There is also an opportunity to scale some of the great work already taking place across the business. We see parts of the business which are showing great commitment to this work, and we want to continue to foster this behavior across the organization. I am also thrilled to see how our Employee Resource Groups continue to evolve. We have amazing leaders who are spending time building community and driving great work to help educate, build awareness, and engage the organization. 

What are your main focus areas and goals for the year ahead?

Vijay: Our People and Places team vision is to attract, grow, and empower our people to shape the future of Identity. We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, and a lot of that opportunity will be realized as we continue to infuse diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) across the People journey. Specifically, we’re looking to embed equity and inclusion principles into our culture, focusing on career growth and development so that employees have clear pathways for upward mobility and equal access to opportunities and outcomes. We continue to place a strong emphasis on recognition, and will continue to garner leadership commitment and accountability, ensuring business leaders understand how to own and contribute toward better, equitable outcomes. Finally, we will continue to provide transparency into our workforce data internally on a quarterly basis so that we can identify areas of progress and opportunities through our annual deep dive with the State of Inclusion Report. This data will inform the decisions and investments we make to help us build the strongest team that helps us meet our company’s ambitious goals. 

Lynnetta: First, we will focus on an inclusive culture by building balanced teams, embedding equity across the talent lifecycle in our policies and process, and enabling our workforce with the right resources and tools to drive positive results.  Second, we will focus on manager and leader capabilities by driving the intentional enablement of our managers and leaders to integrate inclusive best practices into their day-to-day and drive equitable outcomes. Third, we will focus on data-driven decision-making by ensuring we make decisions that are informed by our data. We will strengthen our efforts based on both qualitative and quantitative data to guide us where we need to continue to invest as well as inform us where our opportunities exist. Finally, we will focus on career growth and development by supporting our team members as they navigate their careers by providing access to knowledge, tools, and resources that will aid in their growth and development. 

At Okta, we often talk about how DIB work is a shared responsibility across all functions and all people at all levels. What advice do you have for folks who want to get more involved or enter the work but don’t know how? 

Lynnetta: I love this question because everyone owns DIB! For those who want to get more involved with the work, I would encourage them to be a lifelong learner as this space is constantly evolving. There are so many incredible books, articles, conferences, and follow thought leaders in the space. For those who work in organizations that already have DIB efforts, seek out opportunities to get involved by engaging with Employee Resource Groups, reach out to those who are leading these efforts, and raise your hand to participate and engage. For those who do not already have existing efforts, this could be a great opportunity to create some by starting an ERG, ensuring balanced interview panels, or using precise and inclusive language. Lastly, model the behavior. You do not need to sit on a DIB team to prioritize this work. We need advocates and champions committed to and modeling inclusive behaviors at every level and in every part of the organization. We should all be intentional about centering inclusion by paying attention to the way we show up, interact with people, build our teams, run our meetings, and design and sell our products. It's really in everything we do! 

The release of our State of Inclusion report invites all of us at Okta to take a moment to pause, reflect on our collective work, and recommit to the work that lies ahead. We have systems to overhaul, programs to revamp, and commitments to carry through. We’re heartened by the people working alongside us across Okta, the progress we’ve made in various areas of the organization, and the commitments we have from leadership. 

To learn more, visit our Okta Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging page. To join us on our journey at Okta, explore open roles on our careers page and join our talent community.