Booz Allen’s Karen Dahut on Bringing More Women into Tech and Defense

Oct 29, 2019 7:00 AM ET

Despite equal aptitudes, women remain vastly underrepresented in technology and defense leadership roles. At the 2019 Atlantic Festival, Booz Allen’s Karen Dahut—an executive vice president and the firm’s global defense lead—shared tips and highlights from her own career journey and her thoughts on how to bring more women into these important positions.

Encouraging risk

Women have to take risks, Dahut says. “I love this notion that we need to teach our girls to be brave and courageous and not perfect,” she said. “That risk-taking really helps to accelerate your career.”

Dahut encourages this behavior on her own team with laminated Monopoly-style cards. If someone takes a risk and it doesn’t end in the way they’d hoped, they bring the card back to her to “get out of jail free.”

Mentoring “with a kick”

Another key to success is seeking—and delivering—the right kind of mentorship.

According to Dahut, it’s important to find mentors who will let you know when you’re not putting your best foot forward. Mentors who too often let things slide can be ruinous to a career.

“I sought out mentors who would give me a little kick in the behind when I needed it,” she said. “That was really helpful to me.”

Strengthening support and representation

What does it really take to accelerate, develop, and advance women?  

According to Dahut, key factors include equal pay for genders, strong mentorship programs, and institutional support.

“Really scaled, sustainable programs matter,” Dahut said, citing research by Booz Allen and the Center for Talent and Innovation.

Dahut also stressed the importance of representation. At Booz Allen, she said, 42 percent of the firm’s board of directors are women, and greater than 50 percent of the firm’s leaders are women.

“It speaks volumes about who we are as an institution,” she said. “We want people at Booz Allen to look up in our organization and see people that look like them.”

Read more about Dahut’s career journey—from a formative high school job and service in the U.S. Navy to leadership at the highest levels within Booz Allen—and watch  Dahut talk about women and leadership at The 2019 Atlantic Festival.