Booz Allen's Native American Network: Building Cultural Awareness and Cultivating Community

Nov 23, 2020 8:00 AM ET
Blog

In a year of pivots and challenges, Booz Allen is proud to debut an all-new, revitalized Native American Network (NAN). With ambitious goals, the network—re-imagined in 2020 after a hiatus—aims to strengthen recruitment and career development within Booz Allen. It’s also an open invitation for all at the firm to celebrate Native American culture and learn about its history, tribe diversity, and current challenges.

“When I saw NAN established, I felt compelled to participate,” said Booz Allen Principal and NAN Executive Sponsor Alex D’Agostino, who is a member of the Chippewa tribe in Michigan.

“I wanted to find more connections at work, so when I started seeing NAN emails popping up, I wanted to plug in and help out where I could,” said Program Measurement and Evaluation Expert David Emery, who is an enrolled member of the Chickahominy Tribe – Eastern Division (Virginia).

In November, NAN celebrated Native American Heritage Month and the road ahead in alignment with its refreshed goals and initiatives.

A celebration of identity and inclusion

"Native American Heritage Month is a time for us to highlight the rich culture and history of the first Americans,” said Booz Allen Senior Vice President and NAN Executive Sponsor Angela Wallace, whose grew up in rural Alabama and has relatives from the Choctaw tribe.

To honor Native American Heritage Month, NAN developed programming to educate, build cultural awareness, and boost professional development:

  • The “Did You Know?” series of emails touching on topics such as appropriate tribal nomenclature, the community's contributions to world wars, and Native American perspectives of the Thanksgiving holiday
  • Cultural Appreciation Through Stories featuring Navajo coyote story series, and a story from the Lumbee Nation—all for employees and their children to listen and participate
  • A “Rock Your Mocs” Day virtual happy hour with firm leaders, allowing employees to show off their favorite moccasins
  • A Pow Wow Sweat Workout session for exercise and learning more about traditional Indigenous dance
  • “Honoring the Native American Legacy,” an Unstoppable Together podcast and discussion featuring D’Agostino sharing his experiences growing up with a Native American heritage

“This network isn’t just for Native Americans,” said Booz Allen Associate and NAN Co-Chair James Wong, whose wife has Native American heritage. “It’s for people with an interest in Native American culture. If you want to learn more about it, this is the place to come.”

Collaborating across a multicultural community

NAN is part of Booz Allen’s Global Multicultural Business Resource Group (BRG), a collection of employee networks committed to fostering an inclusive environment at Booz Allen through cultural enrichment programming, networking events, and structured professional development opportunities.

NAN quickly formed partnerships with other networks—such as the African American Network, the Asian American Network, and the Latin American Network (LAN)—to gain helpful tips and best practices and to partner on activities and events. In October, NAN and LAN co-hosted a session with Dr. Elizabeth Rule about topics such as Savanna’s Act—which aims to strengthen training, coordination, and data collection for cases of missing or murdered Native American women. They also held conversations with the Global Military and Veterans Business Resource Group about activities related to the Smithsonian’s new National Native American Veterans Memorial.

This month, NAN also partnered with the African American Network (AAN) to host “Perception vs. Reality,” a discussion on the assumptions and unconscious biases of African American and Native American communities in corporate America, including challenges that come with physical appearance, recruitment initiatives, and how to foster inclusivity.

The NAN and the Multicultural BRG’s book club also recently hosted a virtual discussion on the film Dawnland, which tells the story of Indigenous child removal in the U.S. and the devastating impact of Maine's child welfare practices on the Wabanaki people.

Strengthening knowledge, resources, and communities

In the years ahead, NAN is aiming for expansive impact inside and outside of the firm.

“Throughout history, a lot of Native American identity has been lost,” said Booz Allen Associate and NAN Co-Chair Vanessa Benally, a Navajo tribal member. “This network is a great place where we can talk about what happened and the diversity of the Native American community.”

These discussions include a more accurate understanding of Native American realities—for example, most Native Americans today live in urban areas.

“People are shocked to hear there are still vibrant Native American communities all around this country,” Emery said. “Many people interact with Native Americans daily. We want to make that real for people so they can see who are in their communities today.”

D’Agostino envisions leveraging the firm’s resources for Native American communities in areas such as improved Internet connectivity, health resources (particularly in light of COVID-19 inequities), and education opportunities. 

“We’re in the ideation phase, but these are issues Booz Allen has the expertise to weigh in on,” he said.

After giving a presentation on cybersecurity for NAN, Benally gained valuable insight into issues where NAN can have an impact. “We got so much feedback, like discussion around how some Native American communities don’t have Wi-Fi access, so people have to go to public libraries or wait for a bus with Wi-Fi hotspots,” she said. “Booz Allen with its infinite resources, is there anything we can do?” As a result, NAN will be working with the Global Multicultural BRG to explore opportunities to give back to this community.

Growing Booz Allen capabilities and engaging more Native American professionals

NAN is building a more inclusive future by tapping into Native American STEM talent sources, expanding Booz Allen’s talent pipeline, and providing Native American employees with a vibrant multicultural work experience. NAN co-chairs Wong and Benally have partnerships with universities and groups like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to ensure a strong talent pool and can provide recommendations on candidates.

“I believe in the strength and the value that our Indigenous employees bring to Booz Allen,” Wallace said, citing examples from her own experience growing up. “I learned very early that it was important to use the resources on hand to innovate and to solve problems. Sometimes that requires taking a few steps back to find imaginative ways to tackle a mission.”

At Booz Allen—where she’s worked since 1993—Wallace said she’s found a place to thrive. “Booz Allen is a place where people can bring their whole selves to work.”

Learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion and the Global Multicultural BRG at Booz Allen.