The First, the Few, the Only
How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America
Despite being one of the fastest-growing segments in the corporate workforce, women of color remain underrepresented—often among the first, few, or only ones in a department or company. The first Indian-American woman to make partner at Deloitte, Deepa Purushothaman knows this first-hand. Today, as organizations begin their post-pandemic planning, she uses her hands-on experience as a senior executive, specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion, to help us redefine power and profitability in corporate America—creating organizations that are truly inclusive for all.
“As women of color, we need to unearth our individual power. It is not power that comes from outside accolades...it's power that comes from inside of us.”— Deepa Purushothaman
In the working world, women of color often receive the message that to be successful, they have to change who they are—leaving them feeling exhausted, frustrated, burned out, and isolated from their peers. Spending more than twenty years as a senior partner at Deloitte, Deepa Purushothaman experienced her own moments as a “first, few and only”, inspiring her to better understand the unique dynamics and challenges that WOC face in the workplace. In her time there, she helped grow Deloitte’s Social Impact Practice, served as a National Managing Partner of Inclusion, and served as the Managing Partner of WIN—the firm’s renowned program to recruit, retain, and advance women. Today, Purushothaman is the cofounder of nFormation: a first-of-its-kind community platform for women of color, by women of color. Focusing on women’s leadership and inclusion strategies, Purushothaman’s mission is to help women of color navigate the complex and often opaque corporate structures of today—helping them not only take a seat at the table, but change the way the table is formed.
Her forthcoming book builds upon this mission. Titled The First, the Few, the Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America, (HarperCollins, March 2022) her debut is a deeply personal call-to-action for women of color to find power from within themselves, join together in community with each other, and advocate for a new kind of corporate environment. One where they are accepted on their own terms. It is only by fully realizing our own strengths, that we can build collective power and use it to confront microaggressions, outdated norms, and workplace misconceptions, says Purushothaman. Her boundary-pushing work helps create cultures where belonging is never conditional, and inclusion is the norm, not the exception.
Purushothaman is a Women and Public Policy Program Leader in Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she concentrates on research and strategies to combat systemic racism in corporate structures. She has degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard Kennedy School, and the London School of Economics. She is also an Aspen Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and has served on the Boards of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and Avasara (a leadership academy for girls in India). Purushothaman speaks frequently about race and gender issues and has been featured at national conferences and in publications including Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, and Harvard Business Review.