Deepa Purushothaman, author of the new book, The First, The Few, The Only: How Women Of Color Can Redefine Power In Corporate America, believes that workplaces must evolve with the culture and that women of color have the potential to lead that transformation.
For her book, Purushothaman interviewed over 500 women of color. She highlights in The First, The Few, The Only both individual stories as well as the numerous commonalities she has observed from having these discussions.
“By fully realizing our own strengths, we can build collective power and use it to confront outdated norms, and workplace misconceptions; create cultures where belonging is never conditional; and rework corporations to be genuinely inclusive to all,” explains Purushothaman.
The First, The Few, The Only is Purushothaman’s deeply personal call to action for women of color to find power from within and to join together in community. “The book provides a road map for women of color 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," says Purushothaman.
The road map is explained within the book’s three parts:
- Find Your Power
- Feel Your Power
- Forge Our Power
The book’s actionable takeaways will resonate with a wide range of readers, from CEOs and HR teams to managers and employees.
Photo Credit: Leslie Bohm
Purushothaman is the co-founder of nFormation, which provides brave, safe, new space for professional women of color, and she is a Women and Public Policy Program Leader in Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to this, she spent more than twenty years at Deloitte and was the first Indian American woman to make partner in the company’s history. Today, she shares these insights with us:
Question: What do you hope this book will mean to Women of Color (WOC)?
Purushothaman: I hope it will validate their struggles, that they feel seen and heard, and encourage them to be bold and unapologetic in claiming their contributions. Many women of color I’ve met have scars from climbing the corporate ladder. We often question our reality. “Did that really just happen?” This book is about helping WOC not feel alone.
Question: If you could encourage white leaders to read this book, what would you tell them they can expect to learn from it?
Purushothaman: They can expect to more deeply empathize with the experiences of WOC professionals and learn how to be a more effective co-conspirator. I also hope they will see that Corporate America is not a meritocracy and shows up differently for different types of people. We can’t change it if they don’t understand what it is like to walk in our shoes as WOC. It is such a newer discussion to talk about race at work. I hope my book provides the data and stories to give words to the experiences of WOC so more allies can see something, do something and make change.
Question: What did the phrase “you don’t have to see it to be it” mean to you in your career?
Purushothaman: Growing up, I never saw role models that looked like me on television, in the media and in the business world. Sometimes what you don’t see says as much as what you do.
I didn’t want a lack of representation to hold me back. I wanted to break barriers as I advanced and become the role model I needed to see. I could be successful even if I didn’t see myself, but I had to be brave, bold, and unapologetic. And, I had to reimagine even for myself what a leader looked like. I wrote that note to myself early in my career and when I had bouts of doubt, I would reread it like a mantra to remind myself that change was possible.
Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.