Mitigating Bias, Fostering Inclusion: Booz Allen Hosts “Day of Understanding”

Mitigating Bias, Fostering Inclusion: Booz Allen Hosts “Day of Understanding”

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.@BoozAllen talks bias, blind spots, and more during @CEOAction #DayofUnderstanding
Friday, December 14, 2018 - 3:45pm

CAMPAIGN: Diversity and Inclusion


“He just looked like the right fit.” “I knew I could trust her the first time I saw her.” These superficial assumptions are known as unconscious bias. They cloud decision-making and hinder inclusivity in hiring, promotions, education, law enforcement, and beyond.

On December 7, more than 200 Booz Allen Hamilton employees engaged in conversations and activities to explore unconscious bias: what it is, how it impacts individuals and organizations, and how to change it.

The two-hour event—with both in-person and virtual participation—tied into a Day of Understanding, during which CEO Action signatory companies hosted discussions within each of their respective organizations to further embrace differences. CEO Action is a commitment by companies worldwide to foster more inclusive workplaces.

The event was also the latest in Booz Allen’s Inclusive Conversations series, which supports the three tenets of the firm’s BE3 Promise: be you, be Booz Allen, and be empowered to change the world.

Booz Allen believes in the power of inclusive conversations. These workplace forums foster an open discussion where employees from all levels and backgrounds can begin to build awareness and understanding of the issues that often have a significant impact on their lives and their sense of belonging in the workplace,” said Cheryl Wade, head of the firm’s diversity and inclusion team.

A day of introspection and conversation

Dr. Marcelle Davis and Jacqueline Guill, Booz Allen diversity and inclusion program leads, facilitated the town hall-style gatherings with a guest from CEO Action, Marvin Washington, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Washington presented a “diversity wheel” with 36 dimensions of diversity, many of which go beyond visible characteristics such as race, gender, and age. Other aspects include communication style, management status, and attitudes toward personal space and competition vs. cooperation.

Participants had the opportunity to view videos that demonstrated how automatic assumptions and implicit biases can cloud decision-making. They also experienced the power of implicit associations for themselves through a rapid word association exercise known as the Stroop test.

This was followed by a video case study in which two white employees were scheduled to meet a senior executive. In the scenario, the employees discussed the executive’s highly impressive credentials—yet when they were led to the conference room where an African American man sat, they assumed they had been sent to the wrong room.

“Our brains are wired to make cognitive shortcuts to help us process the millions of pieces of information that we receive every second,” said Washington. “We make snap judgments, which can sometimes be wrong. And they might not be aligned with our conscious values and beliefs. This can result in us acting in ways that have unintentional consequences for ourselves and others.”

A pledge to act

What actions can people take to mitigate unconscious bias and foster greater inclusion? Guill emphasized acting with positive intent, “listening to understand rather than listening to react,” and engaging diverse perspectives. “Managing your blind spots is key to building a culture of awareness.”

The workshop culminated with a pledge, calling for participants to identify one action they could take to foster a culture of understanding.

“Not only does the Day of Understanding affirm two of Booz Allen’s values—unflinching courage and living and working with ferocious integrity—it creates a space for our talent to harness the power of collective ingenuity and potentially brainstorm innovative ways for the firm to build an even more inclusive and welcoming culture,” said Booz Allen Vice President Marlene Aquino.  

Opportunities for further dialogue, including Inclusive Conversations events around the country, are planned for the future as part of Booz Allen’s continued work to empower leaders and employees from all backgrounds to listen and act with empathy and build trust.

Learn more about how Booz Allen supports a culture of inclusion, including initiatives such as CEO Action.