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Posted by Jennifer Swindell on March 19, 2014
Booz Allen’s commitment to diversity has always been rooted in our people and their character. That became especially evident when the firm hosted New York Times best-selling author Andrew Solomon last month. It was one of the most moving and memorable events I can recall in my 14 years at the firm.
Solomon’s book, Far From the Tree, tells the stories of parents raising children with differences, and finding profound meaning in doing so. Solomon maintains that it’s the differences that unite us and shape our character. Booz Allan Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Shrader, who attended the event, said that it showcased a topic that is very important to him since he believes the power of Booz Allen lies in diversity. Dr. Shrader, who has worked to promote diversity activities at the firm and in the community, shared his personal experience raising a child with a disability, and his belief that he grew from those experiences in a way that makes him a more effective leader for Booz Allen.
I also shared my story of raising a child who struggles with a severe neurological disorder. While people with visible physical disabilities are often seen as normal, those with mental disorders are often not seen as normal at all, adding a stigma to the hurdles they already struggle to overcome. I agree with Solomon’s premise that dealing with children who are profoundly different at a fundamental level is also a struggle to deal with our own personal identity.
The challenges of my daughter’s daily experience are hard to see from the outside, but are no less real in their impact to her and those around her. The experience of parenting a child with a disability has provided me with the deepest motivation to ensure that all people are valued for who they are, not what we wish them to be. As a result of that commitment, I am honored to be one of seven senior leaders aligned to support and drive the firm’s disability activities as part of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Agenda.
Diversity and inclusion are part of our culture, are present in our core values, and are driven through formal programs as well as grassroots initiatives such as our employee-led diversity forums. Last month’s Far From the Tree event was organized by three of those forums—the diverseABILITY forum, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies forum known as GLOBE, and the Parents’ forum.
Since that night, I’ve received numerous text messages and emails from staff who felt the event was riveting, and they’ve since shared their stories with me. I’m astounded by the sheer number of Booz Allen employees dealing with challenging situations in their personal lives. Yet, we somehow find the fortitude to rise up and deal with these issues as best we can.
The event was a strong reinforcement of the firm’s commitment to ensure that all employees have the opportunity to work in an inclusive environment, and have the tools and resources to help them advance and thrive. The character of our people makes our firm great, and the principles of diversity and inclusion create an environment for our people to respond to challenges and grow as human beings and as employees. It’s conversation that we have daily at Booz Allen and in our communities.
As Dr. Shrader said, “The world is made with the belief that everyone is the same, but we are all different, and we know that. The question is how do we accommodate those differences and turn them into strengths.”