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A deeply personal call to action for women of color to find power from within and to join together in community, advocating for a new corporate environment where we all belong—and are accepted—on our own terms.
Women of color comprise one of the fastest-growing segments in the corporate workforce, yet often we are underrepresented—among the first, few, or only ones in a department or company. For too long, corporate structures, social zeitgeist, and cultural conditioning have left us feeling exhausted and downtrodden, believing that in order to “fit in” and be successful, we must hide or change who we are.
As a former senior partner at a large global services firm, Deepa Purushothaman experienced these feelings of isolation and burnout. She met with hundreds of other women of color across industries and cultural backgrounds, eager to hear about their unique and shared experiences. In doing so, she has come to understand our collective setbacks—and the path forward in achieving our goals.
Business must evolve—and women of color have the potential to lead that transformation. We must begin by pushing back against toxic messaging—including the things we tell ourselves—while embracing the valuable cultural viewpoints and experiences that give us unique perspectives at work. By fully realizing our own strengths, we can build collective power and use it to confront microaggressions, outdated norms, and workplace misconceptions; create cultures where belonging is never conditional; and rework corporations to be genuinely inclusive to all.
The First, the Few, the Only is a road map for us to make a profound impact within and outside our organizations while ensuring that our words are heard, our lived experiences are respected, and our contributions are finally valued.
Deepa Purushothaman is a cofounder of nFormation, a company for women of color by women of color. She is also a Women and Public Policy Program Leader in Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to this, Deepa spent more than twenty years at Deloitte and was one of the youngest people and the first Indian American woman to make partner in the company’s history. Deepa was also the US managing partner of WIN (Women’s Initiative), Deloitte’s renowned program to recruit, retain, and advance women. She has degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard Kennedy School, and the London School of Economics, and speaks extensively on women and leadership. Deepa has been featured at national conferences and in publications, including Bloomberg Businessweek, HuffPost, and Harvard Business Review. She is also an Aspen fellow. Deepa and her husband, Manoj, live in Los Angeles with their dogs and an endless list of home renovations.