Perspective: Krista Anderson of Okta on being a woman in Silicon Valley

Okta CCO Krista Anderson calls time on sexism in the technology industry

When it comes to employment diversity quotas, it’s rare to find someone who strongly advocates for them. “Our focus is on talent,” Okta’s Chief Customer Officer Krista Anderson tells me over the phone from California. “We want to make sure we have a diverse pipeline of candidates and we’re interviewing a fair amount of both genders, but at the end of the day what matters is who has the right experience and who is going to be right in the role.”

Looking at the ‘Leadership’ page on Okta’s website could leave you wondering if quotas might be usual after all. Anderson is the only woman currently holding a C-Suite position within the company, a statistic mirrored on the organisation’s board of directors.

“We’re actually doing really well with one female on the board,” she replies when asked about the apparent lack of diversity. “Compared to the rest of the Valley we’re ahead of the curve.”

Shockingly, she’s right. In 2016, over a quarter [pdf] of Silicon Valley’s 150 companies still had no women on their board of directors and over 40% didn’t have a single woman in an executive officer role. 

When asked about a solution for this marked lack of diversity, Anderson is a passionate advocate for in-house initiatives. “We have gender initiatives and we’ve launched some specific recruiting programmes focusing on the referral of female candidates.” Otka also runs W@Okta, (or ‘Wokta’ to employees) a platform that aims to educate, support and improve gender diversity at Okta. Although still in its infancy, Anderson details how the programme has already hosted quarterly events where outside speakers have been brought in to talk about building confidence in the workplace, career management and some more gender specific subjects. “We’ve held Women in Tech open houses,” she continues, “bringing folks into our offices and helping them understand the career opportunities that are out there.”

As Anderson is a woman working in Silicon Valley, it’s interesting to get her views on the recent accounts of corporate misogyny and sexual harassment, as highlighted by Susan Fowler in her whistleblowing blog, back in February. Although her experiences of being a lone female C-suite executive are reflective of the norm, Anderson counts herself as one of the lucky ones when it comes to facing this kind of behaviour first hand.

“I’ve certainly seen some things,” she tells me. “I’ve seen things and I’ve counselled people through it however, I’ve been very lucky with the companies that I’ve worked for and I haven’t experienced that in my career.”

But were the women right to come forward in this way? “Yes,” Anderson firmly argues. “I think having the conversation and creating the environment where women and men can talk about it, openly acknowledge it and say ‘here’s what happened, this is what we’re going to do to fix it’ it absolutely the right thing to do. Not talking about it keeps it behind the curtain and therefore enables it.”

Creating such an environment is precisely what Anderson hopes to achieve with W@Okta. At the most recent ‘Oktane’ conference the company hosted a Women in Tech panel, inviting along four female guest speakers to talk about their unique experiences of working in technology.

“You look at my story, it’s completely different from those women’s stories. You can’t single one out and say ‘this is what it’s like, this is what success looks like’. It was extremely enlightening and comforting for the rest of the audience to recognise that there are lots of different ways to own and manage your career.”

The 2016 Women in Tech panel was the first one hosted by Okta but Anderson is passionate about its return at future Oktane events. “Companies that have large conference attendee numbers can typically host a half or full day event, promoting Women in Tech or Women in Leadership. It’ll take us a couple of years to get there, in terms of numbers, but that’s absolutely where we want to end up.”

The type of network that can be generated from events such as these appears to be a key driving force behind Anderson’s determination to make it a success. A point she keeps referring to is the importance of networks and the necessity of them in helping women advance up the career ladder.

“There’s just as many female networks as there are male, it’s just that there aren’t as many people involved in them,” she explains. “It might be a smaller community but that community desperately wants to grow. However, it can sometimes be difficult as it takes real courage on an individual’s part, especially if you’re early on in your career, to reach out to someone who’s working at a higher level and say ‘can you talk to me about X, Y and Z?”

In areas that are particularly male dominated, just providing a place where people can come together and talk to one another is vital for fostering a more diverse working environment. Female driven initiatives can be so powerful in propelling more women towards the top echelons of the career ladder, or even getting them through the door in the first place, they can no longer afford to be ignored.

Anderson is optimistic that the future for women working in the world of tech is a bright one but she’s also realistic about the fact that more needs to be done. “We need to help them early on in their careers to understand the opportunities that are available to them. Providing hands on experience is so important because these are our future leaders and we need to be sure they have the know-how to execute these roles in the future.”

However, despite all the recent negative press surrounding Silicon Valley, Anderson believes there has never been a better time to be a woman working in tech.

“Companies are embracing diversity metrics and they’re setting targets to work towards, which is a good thing for women, companies, the industry, everything.

“There’s so many opportunities for women to get involved, you just need to reach out to someone who you believe can offer you something or even aspire to be. Don’t be shy about it and don’t be afraid. You will get there.”


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