Cathy O'Sullivan
Editor-in-Chief APAC

Okta Global CIO Alvina Antar on driving diversity and why we need a passwordless future

Jul 16, 20236 mins
Diversity and InclusionIdentity and Access ManagementIT Leadership
Alvina Antar stylized
Credit: Okta

Three years into her role as Global CIO at identity and access management company Okta, Alvina Antar reflects on her path to becoming a CIO.

Prior to joining Okta in 2020, she spent six years as Zuora’s first-ever CIO, and took the cloud-based accounting solution for subscription-based businesses through a successful IPO in 2018.

Antar got her start in IT at Dell where she joined as a graduate software engineer. She spent 17 years there, honing her skills across various domains before eventually moving into M&A and leading the organisation’s acquisition integration strategy.

“Dell was pivoting from a hardware company to a software and solution company, which gave me a different world of exposure to being in a Fortune 500 company to early-stage startups  we were acquiring,” she says. “[It required an] understanding of agility and a complexity of integrating not just the people, but the technology, and ensuring the evolution of business models. That was an amazing experience that gave me a ton of knowledge on not only the breadth and depth of all of the areas of the business, but also the differences in industry and size of organisations.”

With this broad experience, Antar set her sights on landing the role of a CIO. She joined Zuora, an early-stage startup and a former customer of Dell, where she made a significant impact, helping scale it from $30m to $300m and taking it public.

“That was an incredible experience to define what I believed it looked like in the modern technology world,” she says. “I was the voice of the customer there as we were selling to CIOs and CFOs.”

Her experience as a customer of Okta in her time at Zuora led to her current role as global CIO, which she says was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It’s been unbelievable in terms of being able to drive the transformation of Okta into a multi-product business across workforce identity and customer identity, and also being the voice of the customer as we sell to CIOs and CISOs,” she says. “I’ve only worked for founder-led companies. There’s something special about a visionary, founder-led organisation that has compelled me and motivated and inspired me.”

Fostering Women in IT

Antar says inclusivity is one of her core values, and she believes that organisations should do more to reflect the diverse world they operate in. She is a co-founder of the Silicon Valley CIO Women’s Network and a member of the Girls in Tech Board of Directors, which works to erase the gender pay gap in tech.

Despite ongoing conversations about gender diversity in tech, women are still underrepresented and underpaid. According to the Australian Computer Society’s 2021 Digital Pulse report, women make up just 29% of the tech workforce in Australia. Meanwhile in the US. while women make up 47% of all employed adults, as of 2022, they hold only 28% of computing and mathematical roles.

At the senior leadership level there’s been modest progress but women hold only 26% of C-suite roles, according to a 2022 report from McKinsey

Antar advocates for measuring progress and driving diversity across all roles within an organisation, from the boardroom to executive leadership and beyond. While progress has been made, she acknowledges there’s still work to be done to achieve true representation. She suggests holding organisations accountable for diversity metrics, not only through demands or enforcement, but by fostering an organic culture that genuinely reflects the customers they serve.

While not sharing Okta’s pay equity gap, she says the company is proactive in reviewing and addressing any internal disparities.

She advises any women with aspirations to be a CIO to make sure their voices are heard.

“Be fearless in all that you do, and ultimately don’t look around and hold back, because you may be the only girl in the room,” she says. “Be confident in what differentiates you.”

She adds it’s important to also have people who have your back and push you forward.

“Surround yourself with bigger and better people that really propel you and see something in you that you may not even see in yourself,” she says. “I had mentors and sponsors who saw something in me that pushed me beyond my own expectations.”

Consumer expectations on data privacy

As technology continues to shape our lives, the issue of data privacy and consumer trust is paramount. Antar emphasises the responsibility of CIOs in securing enterprise data and safeguarding customer privacy.

Okta’s recent customer identity trends report reveals consumers want more control over their data and are willing to sacrifice convenience for greater ownership.

This was especially true in financial services, where 86% of global consumers want more control, closely followed by healthcare (83%) and the public sector (81%)—all of which are likely to involve sensitive or private personal information.

“CIOs should prioritise securing enterprise data and ensuring data privacy and protection,” says Antar. “Consumer expectations around data protection are increasing, and it’s crucial to have clear strategies in place for data governance, data residency, and data retention. Customers expect their data to be protected within the enterprise as much as within the products they use.”

A passwordless future

As an executive in the IAM sector, Antar is unsurprisingly passionate about a passwordless future—both for Okta itself and for its customers.

“Driving a passwordless journey is not only to drive increased security because we all know that passwords are the weakest link in the security chain,” she says. “But it’s also integral from an experience perspective to provide the most seamless experience to our employees.”

She points to a global report from Okta in 2021 that found that one of the most common passwords in the ANZ region is ‘password’.

“It’s scary; it’s just eight characters,” she says, “It’s ultimately what has caused so much risk, so something many of our customers are focusing on is how to ensure they’re removing the reliance on passwords.”

She says the future is biometric authentication. “Our focus across both our workforce identity platform, as well as our customer identity platform, is to ensure biometric factors like facial recognition and fingerprint scanning across all devices, applications, and infrastructure is the future,” she says. “So that’s something we’re completely focused on.”