Booz Allen makes statement on diversity with new board appointments

Booz Allen has steadily increased the presence of women on its board and senior management team in a diversity push the company sees as making good business sense.

Last week, Booz Allen Hamilton named a pair of new members to its board of directors.

And while they may seem like mundane and commonplace news, there is more to this story.

In 2011, Booz Allen named Betty Thompson, executive vice president and chief people officer; and Karen Dahut, executive vice president and global defense lead; as the first two women on the company’s senior leadership team.

Then in 2012, Joan Amble became the first woman to join the company’s board.

Just last week, Michele Flournoy and Ellen Jewett were appointed to the board as Phil Odeen prepares to retire from his seat in March 2019.

This means that 40 percent of the company’s board positions will be held by women. That is five out of 12 positions. Among publicly-traded government services companies, Leidos and Perspecta each have three women on their boards. The others have just one or two.

On the management side, 55 percent of the Booz Allen's senior leadership team is now women, or six out of 11 positions.

That’s a remarkable change in just seven years but it didn’t happen by accident, Thompson told me.

Former CEO and current Chairman Ralph Shrader made diversity a priority because he saw the value it would bring to the company and Amble quickly proved that when she joined the board in 2012, Thompson said.

“She brought these great financial gifts from American Express (where she was comptroller) but the conversations on the board became broader and more inclusive,” Thompson said.

Amble's presence on the board led directors to ask new questions about diversity and often she wasn’t the one raising those questions. Amble also saw ways she could help the company but serving as a role model and mentor to Booz Allen’s female executives and senior managers.

“She connected people to her networks. She did that for the board and for others in the company,” Thompson said.

Quality and experience have always been a priority, and you can tell that with the addition of Flournoy and Jewett.

Flournoy served as undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration and was the highest ranking woman to serve at the Pentagon. She’s been a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a research professor at the National Defense University.

She’s also a former member of the Defense Policy Board and current member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group.

Jewett comes from the world of finance and is a managing partner at Canoe Point Capital LLC and was head of U.S. government and infrastructure for BMO Capital Markets. She also worked at Goldman Sachs for 20 years, specializing in airport infrastructure financing.

I could go on but think you get the point. They aren’t being named to Booz Allen’s board just because they are women.

“We are looking for the highest quality people and diversity is certainly a part of that,” Thompson told me.

In my conversation with Thompson, it is clear that the company sees diversity as part of the quality equation, not something that is tact on.

The company wants a board and leadership team that reflects its workforce and its customer base, both of which are very diverse, she said.

“People want to see people that are like them at the top of the company and on the board,” Thompson said.

Booz Allen has mentorship and development programs in place to “help people to be their best,” she said.

When people are their best, they make better consultants and better consultants mean better results for the company, she said.

Booz Allen’s push for diversity has been very deliberate. Booz Allen uses search firms to find board candidates.

“People tend to know people just like them, so we don’t want to rely just on board members’ networks,” Thompson said.

The search for new board members also is always on going, even when there isn’t a current opening, she said.

“We don’t want to have to start the process over ever time.”

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