Choose to Challenge: Booz Allen Celebrates Women's History Month With the Global Women's Business Resource Group
“I want to listen to women’s stories to ensure that all are heard and develop actionable solutions to address inequities.”
This is what “Choose to Challenge,” the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month at Booz Allen, means to Senior Associate Michelle Ralston, outgoing co-chair of the firm’s Global Women’s Business Resource Group (BRG), which creates opportunities for women to build networks through professional events, workshops, and development programs.
In 2021, she and Senior Associate Kari Merkel have passed the Global Women’s BRG leadership torch to three women: Senior Lead Technologist Erin Holland, Lead Associate Jenny Pupa, and Lead Associate Sophia Rodriguez. Maintaining Executive Sponsor roles of the BRG are Executive Vice Presidents Julie McPherson and Aimee George Leary.
Here they discuss how they met and connected during COVID-19, how they’re celebrating Women’s History Month, and what’s ahead for the Global Women’s BRG.
A power trio with wide-ranging backgrounds and motivations
In 2020, the Global Women’s BRG began the process of selecting new chair leadership. According to Ralston and Merkel, the initial goal was to pick one or two leaders from the sizeable pool of applicants.
As it turned out, “the minute we met with Erin, Jenny, Sophia individually, we knew from their passion, energy, and experience that we wanted all three,” said Merkel. “Their backgrounds and personalities complement each other well.”
For Holland, her team of recent graduates and new associates inspired her to get involved. “I want women starting and progressing their careers at the firm to know they have support and access to resources to reach their career goals. We need to continue to advocate for and empower women to understand their value within the firm.”
Pupa’s motivation was personal and rooted in ensuring all have access to information and resources when challenges arise. “I knew of networks, but none that I felt connected to or could help me,” she said. “When I joined forces with my fellow co-chairs and the Women’s BRG members, I immediately felt that I wasn’t alone. Now, I am determined to help others speak up, feel empowered, and be their authentic selves. It’s our job to courageously share our stories, pay it forward, and be part of the solution.”
Rodriguez learned of the Global Women’s BRG and the co-chair search through her work with Booz Allen’s Multicultural BRG and African American Network, for which she currently serves as regional outreach chair.
“It’s nice to work with peers and people who are like you. Too often I’ve heard ‘I never knew we had this’ among the people I work with,” she said. “I want to make sure people know about the Global Women’s BRG, with a greater emphasis on regions and local chapters so women throughout Booz Allen feel as involved and empowered as those in the Washington, D.C. area.”
Connecting across geographies and circumstances
The new co-chairs operate across three time zones and thousands of miles: Pupa works in California, Rodriguez in Texas, and Holland in the greater Washington metropolitan area.
“Pre-COVID-19, we wouldn’t have been able to meet in person often,” said Merkel. “Now, we can regularly connect face-to-face while halfway across the world and the new co-chairs can speak to their geographies and represent.”
“This digital environment has allowed us to amplify our communications,” said Rodriguez. “Because you’re networking in the same place you’re working; it’s become organic to do both at the same time. We’ve become more engaged because of these platforms.”
The BRG’s annual Women’s History Month programming is a prime example of how the BRG works to meet the needs of its members. For instance, last year, just before COVID-19 reimagined life as we know it, a host of in-person events were planned to celebrate the tribute month, including a sizable technology panel and recruiting event.
“When COVID-19 hit, we pivoted to focus on the health and well-being of our employees,” Merkel said. As part of revised Women’s History Month programming, the BRG hosted a panel discussion with women leaders on how COVID-19 was impacting their lives and work, from a single mom with a leadership position in the firm’s InfoSec business to an employee with a teenager and a spouse working as an essential employee.
The BRG’s now monthly “Wind Down” series resulted from these efforts and initial conversations. Continuing into 2021, Booz Allen women and allies come together virtually to discuss topics from balancing well-being to navigating learning challenges when faced with a disability, to sharing experiences as a veteran or military spouse. Many of these sessions were co-hosted with other Booz Allen BRGs. The originally planned tech panel was also reimagined, resulting in a now ongoing quarterly tech talk series on topics such as building a lifelong tech career, how COVID is driving digital transformation, and more.
“COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to reach anyone anywhere at no cost,” said Merkel. “It has made it easier for us to be more inclusive.”
Telling stories and taking action
Flash to 2021’s celebration of Women’s History Month: This month saw a variety of activities planned by the Women’s BRG to celebrate women, honor their accomplishments and voice their challenges. Notable events included:
- A multi-part book club discussion on Code Girls by Liza Mundy
- Panels about the future of technology and how public-private and cross-sector partnerships can narrow gender gaps while redefining equality in the workplace
- A screening of the film RETURN: Native American Women Reclaim Foodways for Health and Spirit, co-hosted by the firm’s Native American Network and Global Women’s BRG
- Informal small group gatherings for Global Women’s BRG members across the globe
The Women’s History Month agenda is a preview of the incoming co-chairs’ ambitious plans for the year ahead.
Holland also wants to help women battle imposter syndrome, where high-achieving people doubt their abilities and find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. “No matter how much education you have, you sometimes feel that way. I want to change that narrative and help women come out of the shadow and into the spotlight.”
Rodriguez is looking forward to digging into the data and “doing something with it, so we can take action,” continuing to complement the firm’s ongoing efforts as part of its commitment to advancing racial and social equity.
Women’s stories are behind it all, Pupa emphasized. “Life is about sharing stories—telling and listening to them,” she said. “It’s how we learn, heal, connect, and inspire; and how we ask for what we want and need. That’s what the Women’s BRG is here to support.”
Learn more about the Women’s BRG at Booz Allen