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Transforming Career Trajectories for Women of Color at Work

April 30, 2022



Transforming Career Trajectories for Women of Color at Work

Transforming Career Trajectories for Women of Color at Work

Deepa Purushothaman shares the experiences of many Women of Color, including herself, in the corporate world and their challenges to rise as leaders—including loneliness and not seeing themselves represented. Deepa talks about the importance of co-conspirators speaking up as well understanding they will make mistakes. Deepa is the author or “The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America” and co-founder of nFormation, a company that provides safe spaces for professional Women of Color.


[03:11] An overview of Deepa’s career at Deloitte.

[04:23] Deepa started by studying policy and politics.

[05:54] Ageism from clients was the discrimination Deepa felt most after being made partner early on.

[06:27] As the first Indian female partner, Deepa didn’t see herself represented in leadership positions and had questions about belonging.

[07:55] Deepa had support and sponsors and pulled from different leaders to see what worked for her.

[08:23] As a Woman of Color, Deepa had some challenges giving feedback to people older than her.

[09:32] Deepa had a particular data-driven approach that worked with clients.

[10:06] Without a role model, you are to need creative ways to find your voice.

[11:35] How the issue of confirming and performing—two to three times harder than others—came up repeatedly with the 500+ Women of Color Deepa interviewed.

[12:10] White male CEOs have been picking up Deepa’s book—not Women of Color—wanting to get smarter by asking questions.

[13:06] The extra burden Women of Color have educating others.

[13:43] There weren’t (many) conversations about race at work in the US until 2020.

[14:55] Deepa finds there aren’t safe spaces for Women of Color to tell their truth.

[16:31] Many Women of Color have ignored or been taught to ignore racism.

[16:55] How so many Women of Color have physical manifestations of the challenges—including trauma—they have been internalizing.

[18:30] Women of Color need people—allies/co-conspirators—to be involved, not bystanders.

[18:56] Co-conspirators need to realize and accept they will make mistakes.

[19:46] Most Women of Color Deepa interviewed did not talk about race at home.

[20:35] Women of Color and co-conspirators should be prepared and practice what to say when someone says something inappropriate.

[20:58] The shock and shame Women of Color have after something racist is said in the workplace.

[22:20] Deepa’s three recommended things to say to recognize that something inappropriate was said.

[23:32] Responses depend on the context and how well you know the people present.

[24:50] Deepa picks her battles and waits 10 minutes to see how she feels before saying anything.

[25:55] How Deepa got ill and took a sabbatical to heal.

[27:30] Now success is tied to health for Deepa.

[28:33] The genesis of Deepa’s book and company was a series of dinners with many Women of Color.

[29:42] The issue of loneliness for many Women of Color in senior positions.

[31:15] The shared experiences of Women of Color were shocking and freeing.

[32:05] The reaction of white male CEOs has been “we can’t deny this is happening [at my company].”

[33:58] nFormation focuses on Women of Color and holding spaces for conversation.

[35:09] Women of Color have been finding their voice and their power by just seeing each at nFormation

[36:15] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: For co-conspirators - practice empathy--don’t assume, instead listen differently to understand others’ different experiences. Use your power in the moment to support others—amplifying, pausing for space, giving room, speaking up or about someone. For Women of Color – how do you want to show up? What do you want to say and how do you want to use your full voice?


“I was the first Indian female partner we made so there weren't a lot of examples or role models before me and, and it's a pretty large firm. To not see yourself represented, I had my own questions around belonging.”

“When you don’t see yourself in leadership positions, there’s a lot of narrative rewriting that you have to do in your head.”

“You don’t have to see it to be it.”

“When you don't see yourself or don't see an exact role model, that looks like you, what I really coach women on is to kind of try different things out.”

“It's hard to find your voice when you don't see yourself on television when you don't see yourself in the media when you don't have a teacher that looks like you, and then you go into an organization and there's hardly anybody that looks like you. Like, what is your voice?”

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