SOURCE: Booz Allen HamiltonDESCRIPTION:
“A deep sense of belonging is the cornerstone of Booz Allen’s culture. We invest in these events to be the place where you can be your authentic self now and well into the future.” -Anne Muindi-Shemenski, Multicultural Business Resource Group Leader
April is Celebrate Diversity Month. But Booz Allen has been making inclusion a priority year round through its Unstoppable Together series.
The most recent event in the series was the Unstoppable |Diverse| United summit that convened over 300 employees to listen to their peers’ personal journeys, participate in break-out discussions and interactive experiences, learn from each other, and build their understanding of why the richest solutions come from teams with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
Stories have been used throughout history in every culture to convey powerful messages and build affinity. Unstoppable is Booz Allen’s global storytelling tour committed to humanizing real challenges facing today’s workforce. It consists of guided discussions, small gatherings and large events, each thoughtfully shaped to be culturally relevant for its audience and open to all Booz Allen employees.
With the Unstoppable Together employee movement, Booz Allen is investing in its D+I strategy. At the latest event, the commitment to the cause was palpable, with attendees contrasting what they’ve witnessed elsewhere with organizations that “passively support D+I,” with what they see at Booz Allen, that is actively “walking the walk.”
Exploring inclusion, intersectionality, and more
More than 3,000 employees have been reached by Unstoppable Together events so far. Inspired by Booz Allen’s 2019 women’s summit, this year’s events covered topics ranging from the myth of “color-blindness” to the realities of unconscious bias. Speakers and panelists shared their personal experiences code-switching, being Black in corporate America, harnessing culture and navigating assumptions.
And sessions generated rich dialogue. For instance, how can one respond in an affirming, inclusive fashion to “polite curiosity”? And how can organizations create an environment where people feel comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work?
In one session, Lead Diversity Specialist Dr. Marcelle Davis showed how she code switches just through the way she speaks to different people. “I hide my accent every single day,” she said. “Unless you could pick up a word or two, you would never know I’m an island girl.”
Outside of the panels, technology played a role between sessions, showing cutting-edge statistical tools that can counter unintended bias to an “inclusion lab” that used VR simulations to give employees the opportunity to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
“It is personal to me”
At the start of the day, Booz Allen CEO Horacio Rozanski spoke candidly about the anti-semitism he experienced as a child in Argentina, explaining, “It is personal to me. I think many of you know that I was born and raised in Argentina. Certainly, my name and my accent give away that even though I went to school in Wisconsin, I am not from Wisconsin.”
After speaking about discrimination he’d felt personally, he said, “Booz Allen has been the first place in my entire life where I felt completely accepted. This organization has been the only place beyond my family that has celebrated me for who I am, celebrated my differences, and found ways to find the best of what makes me unique instead of conforming to some mythical other.”
How can employees support their colleagues? Rozanski said, “Extend yourself. People don’t know if you’re an ally unless you tell them.”
He added: “Get involved not just by talking. There’s a concept that I love that is that we pray with our feet. We do this with our feet and our hands instead of sitting in a chair. Look for ways to get involved. Find your passion in this and make your passion real through your actions. This is a place where it is not just waiting for leadership to lead. Lead us. Trust me, we’ll follow.”
Following his speech, Rozanski participated in an open, honest, and extended question and answer period with employees from around the globe, moving the conversation into sustainability, technology, mental wellness, being an ally, and how to take the Unstoppable Together energy overseas. One new hire, Jalisa Brown, asked Rozanski how, as a new employee, she could be staffed on a project. Rozanski applauded her go-getter attitude and got his colleagues on the case.
Said Brown after the remarks, “I just started at the end of August. Horacio signed a deal with the Thurgood Marshall College fund to work with HBCUs and I was recruited through that program. I honestly didn’t expect the workforce at the firm to be as colorful, open, and vocal as it is.”
A commitment to change—and potential
“I’m excited about the beautiful faces here. I’m excited that the firm has really made a commitment to its people,” said Booz Allen Vice President and Co-Executive Sponsor for Booz Allen’s internal Multicultural Business Resource Group, Alice Fakir, who participated in multiple panel discussions. “And it’s real, not lip service.”
“I also think by bringing together different cultures, we are changing our environment, impacting it,” she added. “It extends to the community too and helps Booz Allen become a destination for people.”
Vice President Miguel Crespo added a challenge for everyone attending, to keep remembering that diversity and inclusion are, “in our core purpose, in our values, but do we live it? Do we provide the space and opportunity for every individual in the room?” He encouraged people to “create the space and opportunity.”
Employees reflect on Unstoppable Together
With time to meet in groups big and small, Booz Allen employees had opportunities to share their reflections and recommendations, including:
- A desire to bring lessons learned back to their home offices, carrying the message to all 27,000 Booz Allen employees.
- A sense of pride to be working for a firm that is walking the walk with diversity and inclusion.
- A feeling of excitement around employees being encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work.
- A commitment to not just being part of a conversation, but an ally, walking the walk.
Other remarks on the day, included comments on how committed the firm is to the power and importance of authenticity. Here’s what some attendees had to say:
“I want to bring more engaging observations and ideas back to the Atlanta office. Like what does it really mean to move beyond diversity to integration and belonging?” Communications Specialist, Julia S. Chen, Atlanta, GA
“I am a D&I champion ambassador. I am excited about bringing our authentic selves to work. This is how people embrace all their skills and talents. I love that it’s very visibly on display.” Chief Technologist, Monica Hamilton, Baltimore, MD
“I’m attending the applied empathy panel. I’m excited to work on empathy—it’s something you can always get better at.” Senior Acquisition Analyst, Tommy Olejniczak, Warner Robins, GA
“I’m excited to be at an event with other folks who want to be in this place. Working with folks who are committed to D&I are the people who I want to work with.” Communications Specialist, Julia Low, Washington DC.
Tweet me: @BoozAllen is a place that doesn’t just wait for leadership to lead. Learn about how the firm is walking the walk with diversity and inclusion—during diversity month and all year round. https://bit.ly/3cUiuM4 #celebratediversitymonth