#160: Redefining Power In Corporate America with Deepa Purushothaman
#160: Redefining Power In Corporate America with Deepa Purushothaman
Deepa Purushothaman knows what it feels like to be the only minority in a room. She spent 20 years working for Deloitte, where she was the first Indian-American woman and one of the youngest people to make partner in the company’s history.
At the time, there was no one who looked like Deepa in a similar role. She had no one to look up to or seek advice from, so she told herself “If I don’t see it, I will be it.” And that’s what she did.
When Deepa left her career at Deloitte, she found her calling: helping other women and minorities navigate corporate America.
Deepa is a leader in the battle to push businesses toward genuine diversity and inclusion. Her ideas on how to rework work culture will transform corporate America, making it a community where we all feel heard and respected.
In this episode, Hala and Deepa talk about the importance of representation in media, how workplaces can be improved, “Inclusion Delusions” in corporate America, and the future of the workplace.
– Representation in media
– Deepa’s experience at Deloitte
– Starting nFormation
– The future of women in the workforce
– Why inclusivity is an important topic for men
– Deepa’s biggest takeaways from interviewing 500 corporate women
– “Inclusion Delusions” in corporate America
– Examples of why workplaces need to be redesigned
– Beauty and behavior standards in the workplace
– Actionable ways to overcome personal delusions
– Definition and examples of microaggressions
– Addressing microaggression as a minority and as an ally
– Advice on researching workplace culture
– Finding the power of me and the power of we
– Hopes for the future of inclusivity and diversity
– And other topics …
Deepa Purushothaman is a corporate inclusion visionary, a speaker, and the co-founder of nFormation, an exclusive community for high-achieving women of color. Deepa is the author of The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America.
Prior to this, Deepa spent more than twenty years at Deloitte, where she was the first Indian- American woman and one of the youngest people to make partner in the company’s history. Deepa also served as Deloitte’s National Managing Partner of Inclusion and the US Managing Partner of WIN (Women’s Initiative), Deloitte’s renowned program to recruit, retain, and advance women.
Deepa has degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard Kennedy School, and the London School of Economics. Her work has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, CNBC, Bloomberg, and more. She is also a fellow at The Aspen Institute’s First Movers Fellowship Program.
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Deepa’s Website: https://www.deepapuru.com/
The First, The Few, The Only by Deepa Purushothaman: https://www.amazon.com/First-Few-Only-Redefine-Corporate/dp/0063084716/
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#160 - Deepa Purushothaman
Hala Taha: Hey Deepa. Welcome to Young and Profiting Podcast.
Deepa Purushothaman: Thank you for having me so excited to be here.
Hala Taha: Likewise. We're so happy to have you on the show. You are such a fierce and fearless leader. I absolutely love that your mission is to empower women of color in the workforce, and you are truly a trailblazer when it comes to the corporate world. And also as an entrepreneur with your new company and nFormation. So before we talk about your work and your new book, The First, The Few, and The Only. Let's talk about your childhood. I think, you know, that we do a lot of research here at yap and I was reading through your book and a part of your book really resonated with me. There was a section subtitled, a lifetime of not belonging, and it turns out we grew up in very similar environments.
You grew up in a white town in New Jersey, just like me. You never felt like you belonged. Even when he visited India, you felt like you didn't belong. And I can truly relate. You know, I'm a Palestinian American. And I felt like I wasn't American enough in school to the Arab community. Even in New Jersey, I felt like I was too American to fit in.
And so I'd love to learn about your experiences growing up as an Indian in America and how that really shaped your mindset as an adult.
Deepa Purushothaman: Absolutely like that sense of not belonging has followed me, I think. And I've had to do a lot of reprogramming around it, but it started young. So I think in addition to growing up in New Jersey in a very white town, so I grew up in farm country, you know, New Jersey back then, we literally, you know, had a couple of acres.
There was a corn field that was across the street from us. So that kind of. One stoplight, you know, very small town. Um, and in school I was probably one of two or three people of color, of any type of, in a school of 500. And so I always had this sense of I don't belong, but I didn't really understand why I don't, you know, we didn't talk at that point.
We didn't talk about race at home like that. Wasn't a topic that my Indian immigrant parents talked about. It was a little bit, if you work hard, everything will be okay. And yet I would go to these spaces. I would go to school. I would, you know, do afterschool activities and I was always different and it was really confusing.
I also grew up in a family where my father and I are darker skin and my mother and my sister are very light skinned. And so there was a lot of like confusion over skin color, and even just work. If we were all the same family back then, like, and people didn't, now everyone knows what being Indian is. But back then, I don't even know that people, if people would ask me if I was Italian or there was a lot of confusion over even what is being Indian back then. So there was a lot of confusion around that.
And then when we would go to India, we went to India every summer. You know, the girls in India that were my age, had like two braids down their back and they didn't necessarily make eye contact.
And every morning they would go to school with these big ribbons in their hair, in a school uniform. And I would watch it my grandmother's gate as they walked by. And they would just be laughing at me like, because I had my hair down, I was looking, you know, dressed in shorts. I was looking through like the gate at them directly.
It was very clear. I wasn't Indian either. And so there was a lot of confusion over not feeling like I fit in in America. And to your point, not even in the Indian community, because I was always, I played sports. I was always the only girl like didn't fit in there either. And then in India didn't either.
And so. I thought it was me. Right. And for a long time, I carried that like, there's something wrong with me. And so it's a really fascinating thing that I now know many of us go through, but I think when you're going through it, you think it's just, you.
Hala Taha: Totally. And I'd love to understand how that relates to being a woman, because of course, men and women feel these cultural differences, but how did the gender element also influence your mindset as an adult?
Deepa Purushothaman: And I'll be curious if it's the same for you, but being an Indian household. So there's a lot of history around patriarchy. There's a lot of history on the roles of women, you know, in India. And so even though I grew up in a, I would say feminist household, I was the oldest of two daughters. And so my father, even though said I could do anything and be anything encouraged that would often say if I had a boy, if I had a boy, he would cut the grass.
If I had a boy, he would do this. And even at a young age, I grew up like had this edge of, well, I'm going to show you, I don't need to be a boy to do that. So I go cut the grass or I go climb a tree. I do these things that were not what I was supposed to be doing. And yet in my extended family, there weren't, there weren't a lot of examples of women who worked outside of the home.
There weren't examples of women who did, you know, this trailblazing, there were a few, but you know, it, it was more uncommon. And so there was also, I think this confusion over, I can be anything, but that's not necessarily. The history of the lineage that I come from, where the examples that are around me and I would go to India and the questions would always be, and I don't know if this, again, for you would be, even in as teenager, when are you going to get married?
Like, what are you going to have children? Like, that's all people wanted to talk about. And I remember being in my teens and telling my parents, I don't want to go back even as a 16 and 17 year old at all for summers anymore, because that's all people wanted to talk about. It didn't matter what I cared about, what I read, what I studied, all they wanted to know my entire worth was are your, your, you're, of marriageable age.
Your parents should be arranging your marriage. And that is not the culture I grew up in that didn't make any sense to me. So it was really confusing in those ways.
Hala Taha: oh my gosh. I can totally relate to that. I mean, even now I go to some of these like weddings or something like that. I've accomplished so much on the CEO. I'm a fairly young CEO of a very successful company, 70 employees. Number one show. My mom's friends are like, so, so are you going to get married? So, so have you, you know what I mean?
That's all to your point, that's really all they care about and they value the worth of a woman to being married and having children. And to your point, my parents were the same. They always said, you know, you could be whatever you want. You know, my sister's a doctor. And like, they were very encouraging about like what we could do with our lives, but it was always under the frame of and you're going to get married and you're going to have children and you have to fulfill all these. So it was very contradictory. I feel.
Deepa Purushothaman: Absolutely. And I didn't, I mean to share, I didn't get married till I was 40. And so I didn't do that, you know, and for my mom, I remember there was a lot, she didn't tell me this until a little bit later, but there was a lot of judgment and a lot of people who told her she was a bad mother because she wasn't arranging the marriage in my late twenties or, you know, definitely my, my early thirties and the fact that I was single for so long was actually, Um, somehow shameful to her. I mean, she didn't accept that she didn't take that on, but she said a lot of people called her, telling her that she needed to push me and she knew better had that been a conversation. We would've engaged in.
I would've just hung up because I just, I never grew up with that. Like whenever they would bring up arranged marriage, my, I would tell my parents like if we were to, continue that conversation. I'm going to leave. Like that's just not something that I even, remotely want to entertain. I, I, it's funny, as I've gotten older, I have more open ideas about it. Like if, I mean, it's so hard to meet people anywhere at this point. Like I might not be as, as if I was single, as opposed to those introductions now, but in my teenage and twenties, like that was just not going to happen.
So it's so interesting that the shame was not only and we felt it or I'm sure you feel, I felt it, you know, being single and being in those atmospheres, but she also had to bear the brunt of that. You know, it's really interesting.
Hala Taha: Oh, 100%. It's like, I feel like the parents get more ostracized by the community. And then even if they don't want to, they put the pressure on their children. I feel like so many first-generation children in America are having all these like sort of relationship type issues because of that, whether your parents said you couldn't date, um, like for example, that was me. My parents said that I couldn't date all throughout high school, so I hid things from them.
Deepa Purushothaman: Same,
Hala Taha: You know what I mean? And it's just, it just causes all this unnecessary stuff. And I feel like that could be a whole other conversation that we could go down the road. Cause it's, it's super important, but I know there's so much to cover in terms of like women in the workplace and stuff like that.
So let's talk about representation in media. You mentioned before that, you know, you didn't really have any role models, women of color who were working. And same with me, everybody was sort of like a housewife who was married to a doctor in my community. That's like all I had exposure to of like Arabic women.
So I'd love to hear from you about. How you felt, you know, being an Indian, growing up in America and the representation in the media and, what that did to you.
Deepa Purushothaman: It's probably similar to you. I mean, until a few years ago, I didn't see myself on television or even in social media, in any capacity. Right. It's only in the last, like, I would say less than six years that I think you. see Indian one or two. And by the way, it's one or two, it's not everywhere. One or two Indian women on mainstream television.
Right. So I grew up not thinking, not even understanding. I think in America, there's a very black and white conversation that happens. And again, I think it's changing, but when I was growing up, it was kind of like, I didn't feel like even as an ethnicity or as a race, like I belonged anywhere. And so it was very confusing.
Um, not having those role models. I do think affects us. I might have had so many conversations. I interviewed 500 women of color for the book and ideas around like what beauty is and what standards look like and all that we are told. And we don't match that. So it's, it's all, it's like very erasing, I think, to our identity.
It's very undermining. And I think some of us don't even know how that shows up until it just pops up. And you're like, where did that come from? Like, where did my definition of what's a, you know, attractive or what's acceptable or straight versus curly here? What did, where did that all come from? It's from this indoctrination that comes at us from so many different directions, but we're not always even conscious of.
Hala Taha: Oh 100%. I mean, I feel like my only representation was like Jasmine and Disney. At least I had her, but that was very sexualized and very like, oh, I have to look like this beautiful whatever to be, you know, to represent Jasmine. But anyway, he spent 20 years at Deloitte and you were very successful though.
You rose up the corporate ladder, you made a consulting partner and that was, you were the first ever to have that position. And you know, you actually didn't have any other people to follow in their footsteps. And you actually had this phrase that you, I think wrote down in your computer. If I remember correctly, or wrote it in an email and you said, you know, if you didn't see it, you would be it.
So talk to us about this. And what did that reminder do to you psychologically?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. So I traveled all the time. So that's why I couldn't like have it on paper, like have it on the, stuck on my mirror. Cause I live part of being a consultant is I lived out of a suitcase and I traveled all the time. So it was a, it was a note that I kept in my email on my drafts. And I kept that for many years because as I looked up and looked around, there were a lot of amazing leaders and people who supported me and I was, I had a very amazing career.
I moved quickly, but they didn't look like me. Right. They didn't represent, there was hardly any women and definitely hardly any women of color and no Indian women. So it was very confusing. And I don't think people appreciate that unless you're one of us that when you don't see it, you question, if you can be it right. And people that's a very common phrase.
But what I ended up having to do was constantly tell myself I can be it. And I'm I'm, you know, but, but really kind of reprogram that from myself and the way I did that with this mantra, this message. And I also, the other thing I did was I would look at different leaders and I very early on, and I don't know how I came to this, but I came to it really early.
Not seeing a leader that looked exactly like me. I wasn't going to model one person. Like I couldn't look at the white male leader that I really, that was, you know, very good to me and kind of take from him and emulate him. What I ended up doing was taking from multiple people. So I took from six or 10 white leaders and kind of took different parts and made my own.
And that was part of what that message is about is if you don't see it, maybe I'm not it, but I can pull from different people and have a vision of what I want that to be. And so I think that's so important because you know, people dismiss the idea of representation or some people will say, it's, you know, it's, it's so critical, but there's this divide.
And I think if you don't have that, it really just silently tells you, you don't belong in. That's a lot of what we have to reprogram. And so that's how I did it. You know, I think now we have more role models than ever, but it's, it's, it's very new, to be honest with you.
Hala Taha: Yeah. And so when you were in Deloitte, you know, you spent 20 years there, so like, like almost your basically your whole corporate career was that Deloitte
Deepa Purushothaman: I joined when I was super young, like when I was in my early twenties. Yeah.
Hala Taha: Yeah. And so you spent almost your whole young adult life. There must have been a very difficult decision to decide like, Hey, I'm going to leave.
And from my understanding, you know, you did, you did it differently than me. I started a side hustle while working at Disney and the, grew it to a certain point and then left.
It sounds like you just quit cold Turkey. So that must have set your family, especially being an Indian American, your family must've been in a tizzy.
So what was that like? And what was that decision making process like?
Deepa Purushothaman: I will tell you about the decision, but I love that you asked me about my family. Cause it's not something that's in the book, but I think it's so important. So I posted, when I finally decided to leave an announcement on LinkedIn, like I'm leaving this career. It was really hard. And a lot of people at that point, didn't do it now.
Everyone's leaving their job and talking about it. But I did this, I left a year and a half ago. So by the way, I'm not decades out of a year and a half out of a
20 year career. So I'm still learning, but I posted that and the amount, the number of men and women, but of Asian descent that wrote me. And literally the question was, what did your parents say?
What, how did you tell your parents? That was so fascinating to me because it hadn't occurred to me that that would be something I would spend energy on. Like, it was hard to tell my parents, but yeah. I didn't like Roy about that and that sort of way. Cause at that point I'm an adult. It's my career. But all of these adults, all these young adults were really struggling with what do your parents think?
Like how did you, how did you tell them it was a multi-year process for me? So I kind of was, I probably took me three years to finally leave. Like I knew I wanted to leave and it was a variety of reasons. So part of it was, I had these big questions around purpose. I wasn't an MBA.
I didn't think I'd be there forever. And so for a couple of years I'd been asked, I'd been asking myself like, what, what am I doing with my life? like although I'm good at my work. And I enjoy my work. There has to be more. All of a sudden I got really sick. So I was on this intense project. I'd moved across the country, gotten married.
And so the biggest project of my career, one of the biggest investitures on the planet and I was working 20 hours a day in a really intense situation, just having, gotten married, just having moved all these things. And I just, I couldn't, I couldn't figure out how to manage that. And it was a very stressful situation.
I got very sick. So that kind of also piled on. And we can talk about that because I think now we have better words around wellness, but at the time it was, I just didn't know what to do. I ended taking eight months off and I think that was really important. And there were so many messages there that I think are really helpful in that.
I got a lot of advice. Don't quit until you find your next thing. Like, make sure you have this next big thing. And it has to be better than where you are lined up. I ended up taking the at eight months and then just leaving. Like I didn't have a plan that eight months one showed me that I could have a new life and I would be okay.
Because when you're someplace for 20 years, you, your entire identity is locked up in that. And so it was okay. Two, I just, I got to a place where my values had changed. Like what was important to me, what success was. I didn't need that next big thing I knew I was going to be okay. And I almost needed a minute to figure out who I was without my job.
And so I took a little bit of time around that. Um, so I think that was really different. I also wrote, and I talk about this in the book, my work obituary, like I wrote, I it's this thing where I wrote this letter to my CEO and I wrote it and I rewrote it. I now tell women that you should all write your work obituary.
Like, What else would you do? How would you say goodbye to your job if it's such a big part of your identity? And I wrote that and rewrote that, cause it really did feel like part of me was dying. I had given up so much to get to the seat. I also, we honestly felt such responsibility being a first that I couldn't quit.
Like what would, what message would that send would that mean? Other women could think they couldn't do it. So my quitting felt bigger than me and I have found in my research that a lot of women of color stay in roles longer than we're supposed to, even if they're disappointing or not exactly what we want, because we feel responsibility that we got there and that we have to model all these things that I think we have to give ourselves more freedom to walk away when it doesn't work for us and take care of ourselves.
Hala Taha: Yeah. Oh my gosh. That's so powerful. I love that. You said that you felt like, you know, you were letting everybody down, it wasn't just your decision. It was you had to make a decision for everyone because you were the only one in that spot, you know? So you felt like this unnecessary burden, which is kind of unfair to, to hold and that's really powerful. So I'd love to dig into this work obituary concept. So give us an example was in your work obituary.
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. I mean, I basically just laid out my 20 years and how I'd grown, but that I had changed my values. And it was, it was a resignation letter. I mean, simply put, it was a resignation letter, but it was a longer resignation letter because as you said, like these were people I'd known for two decades.
I actually married another partner in the firm who also left, you know, a couple of years before me. So like my entire circle, my entire, you know, all my relationships, all my friends, like our wedding was more than 70% Deloitte partners and people like that was my entire life. There is something when you're out of the system where I still talk to a few people, but it's not my world anymore.
It's kind of, everyone's so busy that you don't stay in touch. And so for me, it was not only identity and who I am, but it was a little bit of all my relationships in my support mechanism. But being a partner was also a thing I don't, then this part is harder to explain, but it's like, you work so hard to get to that title.
Um, it's like being a tenured professor. It's very rare to walk away from that at, at like at the height of your career. And I was walking away from it. And so for me, it was also, I'd worked so hard to get to this stage and I'm leaving one I'm about to make more money than ever and have more opportunity than ever.
And everyone knows my a hundred thousand person organization. Everyone knew me by my first name. Like I was like an entity or I, or a thing or a, you know, a brand almost. And so it felt like I'm about to go out on my own and I don't know what that is or what that will look like or what, you know, 20 years in one place, you have no idea.
And so it just felt like it felt like that weight so that's what was in the letter.
Hala Taha: Hmm. And so it's so interesting. How, in a corporation, especially a large corporation, like Deloitte. Uh, you can literally become like a celebrity within the company. It's like, they've got all these, all these C-suite executives and higher ups. They become celebrities in companies, especially when there's hundreds of thousands of people who work for them. So it's, it's really interesting, you know
Deepa Purushothaman: I never thought about it that way, but I love it. Yeah. I think that's really true.
Hala Taha: Yeah. I mean, I just relate to it because when I worked at Hewlett Packard, I was the face of the young employee is, and I felt like a little celebrity inside the company and I know it's possible I know what you mean. Um, okay.
So let's talk about nFormation. How did you, okay. Actually, let me back up here. I want to call out that it's very interesting that you didn't start a side hustle and you didn't just, you know, go cold Turkey to start something new. You didn't really have a plan. You gave yourself permission to actually take an eight month break and then you decided to actually officially leave.
So did you ha once you decided to officially leave, did you know you were going to start nFormation or did you kind of decide you were going to explore certain topics? Like how did it go?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, I love that question. So I didn't have a full side hustle, but I'll let me tell you how I came to the decision. Because maybe it was like a mini side hustle and I didn't know, and I think it's so important because people either think you have the side hustle or you have the next plan. Mine kind of came together.
So I knew I wasn't happy. I knew I was sick. I had gotten really sick and my doctors had even suggested that it was time to leave like that, that lifestyle wasn't going to work living out of suitcase, you know, eating when I could sleeping in a hotel room, like I needed to change if I was going to get healthy.
So I'd gotten that message. Um, and I had taken the time off and, and prior to the time off what I did was I started meeting with other women of color. So I started meeting with them. One-on-one just to figure out, like, what are people doing at a senior level? And you have to remember the 20 years. Like I didn't have a huge network outside of Deloitte, like my entire world, my entire network was there.
And so I started having these dinners. Eventually those dinners turned into one from one person to two person to five person and Rha my now business partner was my coach at the time. And she said, why don't we do some bigger dinners? Like let's, let's pick a couple of big cities and let's just get together and hear what women of color are doing, where they've met purpose and corporate and all these things together.
So we did 10 dinners across the country. And they were not like planned dinners. There was no like agenda. They were just getting together to hear like, what do women do? And we'd get in these rooms. And I thought we're going to get together for an hour or two. We would be there at a, no exaggeration, three o'clock in the morning, still in the rooms talking because all these senior women of color, I had invited women VP level and higher.
We're just had stories to share. And we had such kindred stories about the challenges and the loneliness and, you know, the navigation. And so that there felt like to me, there was something there that eventually became the book and that became nFormation. So nFormation is a community we've created for women of color, professional women of color, not all corporate.
We actually have academics. We have women in the military, we have all kinds. Um, but it came out of that idea. So I, I didn't, when I left, I didn't know that would be a company, you know, I didn't know what that would look like. And in all candor, even once we decided COVID happened, George Floyd's murder happened like the entire configuration of what the company was and what it completely changed.
So at one point we thought maybe we'll do dinners with companies like to host conversations like this, and then, you know, no one was traveling. So it was a multi-step process. I mean, cause I also remember left and started a company during COVID, which is also a strange time to do things like that. So yeah, so it was kind of a side hustle, but not a planned side hustle, not like with intention. It just there was just such momentum and such magic in those rooms that I feel like we've been able to recreate with nFormation, even though it's all virtual. So we get on Zoom looks. We were on Zoom yesterday with probably 60 women having this intense conversation about what it's like, what it's like to be a first.
And it was amazing and special, but we can now do that over zoom. So the model has changed a little bit.
Hala Taha: Yeah. And I think those are the best companies, the companies that have an end goal and the way that you monetize and whatever, just like is organic. It's based on what is needed to accomplish the mission. So for me, that's like my company also just like evolved into what it is. And I feel like that's the best kind of companies when like mission aligned and you let it evolve organically.
So you've got an incredible book that I just read called The First, The Few and The Only. It comes out March 1st
Deepa Purushothaman: Correct.
Hala Taha: Comes out March 1st. And, uh, first of all, I think the title is important in itself. So explain what the title means?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, I love the title. Because I feel like that's what so many of us feel like in, in corporate situations that I should say, although it's corporate America and the stories are corporate America, there are some other stories in there. And I think it relates, I had, I had a conversation this morning about philanthropy, right?
And women of color and philanthropy. So I think it's across industries, even though this title is corporate America. And all it means is that many of us are the first in our family to go to college or to work outside the home. We're one of the few, you know, in a department or a company or we're the only at a senior level.
And that experience of being those things is very unique and very special to us. And it creates, uh, an entity or identity. It creates an experience and there is something different that happens to us. As we navigate spaces, I say that were made by us. Weren't made for us and sometimes don't even want us there.
And so that's really what the book is about.
Hala Taha: Um, yes, it's really, really good. And we're going to dig into a lot of core concepts of the book. Um, but first I want to talk about why it's important in 2022. Like, what is the impact that women of color, what are they going to have in terms of the impact of the workforce in the future?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. So by 2050, we're going to be a big chunk of not the majority of who is entering the workforce because all of us, as we get more diverse and, you know, everything happens at the population itself. We are the majority of who is educated and who's coming into the workforce. So we're a growing force. I think that's number one.
I think number two, we're just in a moment where between COVID and all the people who have left the workforce and also just our better understanding around race and how inclusion is taking hold in companies, even though there's work to be done, we're also in a moment where we're being called into leadership.
And so I like to tell women, this is our moment, you know, women of color. This is our moment in a way, that maybe it was true, you know, a few decades ago there was a moment right, where there was a really intense conversation around race and equity. We're back in that. And so it's our moment to step through, to make change.
I think a lot of companies are struggling and as women of color, I think we have a unique lens on what needs to change and what should change. I also think we have a lot of experiences of not belonging. And as a result, we can help create workplaces that where people belong. So I like to focus on the fact that even though our road has been hard, we also have what I called, maybe some unique, super powers or some unique lived experiences that make us, I think the leader for what comes next as the workforce gets more diverse.
First, as we get more global, like we have many of us speak many languages. Like we have these unique things that make us really desirable. And so we just need to make space as companies for us to lead and for us to lead in our own ways. And we can talk about that a little bit, but I think that's, what's ex, it's exciting. It's our moment. And we also know what needs to change.
Hala Taha: And you know, many would be surprised. Um, if you're young and profiter are listening right now, chances are, you might be a man because actually most of my listeners are male. And so I'd love to understand why should men care about this issue?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. And I, it's a great point. So one thing is I wrote the book for women of color because there were so few resources. I felt like for us, by us in our voice. But a lot of the ideas in the book are really a questioning of capitalism are really a questioning of the structure itself. And I will be honest that part of my work not, not part, I really feel like my whole work is about making work, work for all people.
Like, I don't think it's working for anybody. So let's just be clear. Maybe it's working for a few at the top in the seats who don't want it to change. So there's a small segment, but a lot of my male colleagues, whether they are men of color or white men, of a certain generation. It doesn't work for them either.
They want to raise their children. They want to be home. They really want work to be part of their life. Not that they're living to work. And I think we have a system that has kind of taken over everybody. And so it's a bigger question about the place that work should take in our lives that I'm asking in this book, I'm asking questions about capitalism and we focused on the right things.
And those are questions. I think everyone is asking whether you are male or female, or, you know, it doesn't matter.
Hala Taha: Totally. Totally. Um, okay. So you ended up interviewing more than 500 women of color for the book. So I'd love to learn what were some of your biggest takeaways from those conversations at a high level?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. And again, I think these apply to everybody, even though I'm going to talk about them in the context of women of color. So one is the single most surprising fact was two out of three of the women of color I met. And I would argue now that I've met a thousand women of color, my work has continued.
It's even higher are sick. And I don't mean like sick cancer, like where it's a clear diagnosis. Most of us have these undiagnosable illnesses have stomach pain, skin, rashes, headaches, fertility issues, these things that doctors will dismiss, but it's coming and happening because of the stress or the being unseen and structures.
And so again, I think that we're, we're in a moment we're realizing that work is stressful for a lot of people. But I found that in my research two years ago with just women of color. So that's one, the second is that we don't always help each other as women. And so that was surprising and this will be different for your listeners.
And this may surprise them if they're male listeners. So almost all the women, I would end my interviews and I would say, is there anything I didn't ask you anything else you want to share? They would drop their voices because they were shameful in sharing this, but we don't help each other as women. So white women have been the worst to us, but even as women of color, so you and I probably wouldn't help each other, what the women would say in a dialogue, right.
And even Indian women don't help each other Middle Eastern women don't help each other.
And I think that comes from this idea that there's one chair, there's one chair that's been designated for a woman or a woman of color. So if there's one chair, you and I are going to compete for it. So again, it's that structural mentality and the conditioning.
So that was really surprising. The other thing is really around conforming. So I interviewed a lot of senior women of color and they said once they got to the seat, they thought that they would be able to do it their own way. When in fact they got to the seat, there was more pressure to conform, more pressure, to behave, more pressure to censor.
And I think that's true for men too. Like this idea that leadership is one way that you have to be a certain way at the top is really a struggle. And so the overall message of my book, and this is for everybody is that I don't believe corporate America is a meritocracy. I think it shows up differently for different people, not just race.
So there's many other aspects to it. And I think we need to understand that, except that kind of take that in. So if we're going to make it better and make it work for everyone, but part of what I want men who read this book, and by the way, it's mostly men so far because the book is still in the process of getting into people's hands, who've read it and called me.
So it's white male leaders who are reading it and shock. They're shocked by the volume of stories. They're shocked by the experience. And they're saying, I want to lean in to make it better, but I had no idea because by the way, we're also not rewarded for telling these truths, like you don't want to be in corporate America and be like, this sucks and that's doesn't work and that's actually not rewarded historically.
So it's only recently that more of us are telling our stories. More of us are showing data on why it is different for us and what a more inclusive and belonging sort of culture would look like. So that's a long answer to all of the parts of what it is
Hala Taha: no, I loved it. I think that was an excellent, excellent explanation. And I love that you called out how there's so many men out there who want to learn and want to be better and want to be better leaders. And a lot of men. White men, especially are in these leadership positions and they're not bad people, you know, and it's the system that's bad, not the people and people often want to be good and just have a lack of understanding.
And I think that your work and helping people understand how, when women of color feel a group, that's often, you know, unheard, completely unheard. And out of all minority groups, I feel like is the least kind of unheard, especially brown women.
Right. So I totally think that your work is, is super important. Um, so let's talk about delusions. You talk about these delusions that we have in corporate spaces in America. And there are so-called rules that have been set up around us, their unwritten rules about how corporate America works and you list 10 in your book. So can you talk us about some of these delusions.
Deepa Purushothaman: So I kind of wanted to provide, you know, I don't, I hate this language that we use sometimes around business cases for inclusion and diversity, but I wanted to really lay it out. Like what's not working, you know, what are the inclusion delusions. I call them really, right? Like what, what are the things that are in place that actually work against us, even though all these companies are doing work to create inclusive cultures.
So I start with number one is really this pipeline issue. So people used to say to me all the time, I would hire a woman of color. I would hire a diverse person. I just can't find them. And so one of the delusions is that we don't exist and we actually exist in data that I have found in many others I've done.
So we tend to hire, we tend to gravitate towards, we tend to live near people who look like us. And as a result, our networks look like that. So you're in my LinkedIn network, by the way, it's going to look completely different than a white man. That's just fact like there's actually proven studies on that because we tend to, again, gravitate to people who look like us.
And so this idea that the pipeline is broken as one of the myths or one of the things we need to change. Another one that I talk about, and I kind of mentioned it to you is this idea that once I get to the top, I'll behave how I want. And that is just a myth. The data suggests that is actually the opposite.
Another one that's a myth is that it's a competition or it should be a competition. So some of the data does suggest that white men are afraid of losing their seat, that by you and I getting opportunities we're taking from them. So it's this idea that the pie can expand is a it's a delusion. I don't know why we don't actually think of the pie expanding, like who taught us that there were seats or that there was a set pilot that just feels like broken thinking to me.
So that's like another example of a delusion. And another one that I love is this idea that if we put inclusion in place or hire a chief inclusion officer, it's all going to be fixed. Right? Because in fact, we have seen over and over again, I get calls weekly from chief inclusion officers who are women of color, who don't have the budget, who don't have the resources who don't report into the CEO, even though they were promised those things, they don't actually have the mandate.
So this idea that one person or a role or a check box is going to fix what we're really talking about is another delusion. But I go through 10 like that, that are just things that I think we think are going to make things better or that I don't see color. I used to be told all the time, like, well, I don't see color.
Like I don't see race. I want to live in a world where we're color blind. Like that's actually more of us now, we are saying this, like, that's actually a very bad thing to say, because it suggests that you're denying my experience is completely different walking the streets than a white man. Right. And so it's those kinds of delusions.
And I lay out that chapter with a story and I think, you know her for, from Brene Meyer. So she's a friend of mine. She's a VP of inclusion at Netflix. And she talks about this story where I was asking her about inclusion in companies. And she said, she started talking about airplane design and she says, you know, let's think about airplanes.
And she was saying, as a mom, she finds airplane, really designed really difficult because when she goes to put her suitcase above her head, her carry on luggage, she's always worried about, or she used to be worried about it falling on her children. And I was telling her I'm five one. I don't know how tall you are, but we tend to be small. Yeah.
So I'm five one. I would struggle with putting my suitcase over my head and I actually would worry about that 15 minutes before I got on the airplane. And so, as she and I were telling this, and she's tall by the way. So it was interesting as two women of color having this conversation, she's five, six or taller. I don't remember exactly.
And I'm five one. And so I'm talking about height, she's talking about being a mom, you know, and we're also talking about the white man sitting next to us as, as maybe five, 10 or taller. Who's not even thinking about the suitcase issue. Right? And so my point in telling that story is it's such an interest in the example, because that happens 15 minutes.
Like as soon as we get on the plane for the next 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after that's upon entry, think of workplaces like that. Think of the fact that, that isn't a not belonging experience and our experience of how the airplane shows up for us as a short Indian woman, as a tall black woman, mom, and as a white men are completely different, and that is true upon entry.
And so, uh, kind of applied that to workplaces at the workplace in the same way, shows up differently for each of us. And so I love that example because when I share that usually the white men are like, that's actually a really good example. I never, I never even contemplated suitcases, you know, and carry-ons.
Um, but that is something I honestly worry about when I get on a plane.
Hala Taha: Me too. I mean, that is a huge worry, you know, it's, it's very stressful. Cause you're like, I hope somebody helps me cause I physically can't even do this. And
Deepa Purushothaman: And I don't want to ask for help.
Hala Taha: busy. Like yeah. I hope people think of cute enough to help me or whatever it is, you know? And so I totally relate. And it's because it's men who designed the airplane, right?
Deepa Purushothaman: That's what we talk about.
Hala Taha: there is no women involved.
Deepa Purushothaman: There were only two or 3% of the designers back then were actually women. So it just wasn't, it didn't go into the rules of how it was designed and extrapolate that to the workplace in the same way, women and women of color weren't there in the original design. So it makes sense that it doesn't work for all of us. So let's redesign it with everyone at the table to have that voice in that conversation.
Hala Taha: And you have a quote from your book that really, really relates to this. You said, we think there's something wrong with us rather than the design, the system, the process. And that's a delusion. The idea that corporate America is a meritocracy is a setup. So I totally think that I think this relates to exactly what you just said.
So talk to us about why corporate America wasn't built for women of color. Like what are some examples of that?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. I mean, if you just look at how it was created, it was created decades ago, like the original design, it was created with this idea that there was a two parent family and that usually the wife stayed at home and the, you know, the man went out to the workplace. And so it didn't matter that he was in, you know, late into dinners or working these long hours or traveling because there was someone worrying.
Childcare and all the issues at home in this model, we've never redesigned, we've redesigned it to address the fact that we, most of us have two income families and it's a completely different model, it just as its base. And so that's an example, right? The fact that we haven't really thought through how to fully incorporate people of color and the voices and the things we bring to the table, that, that we don't have the role models that are experiences different.
And there isn't voice and space for that is an example. And so, Yeah. I just, I think there's so many things about how it was designed, um, that relate back to how it was created, right. And where it comes from and the history in this country that we have around race and where capitalism even comes from.
And so that is part of the undertow that we need to understand so that we can, we can let go of the idea that corporate America is autonomous or is without, you know, those principles as well. I mean, white supremacy is part of how it was designed, right? I'm not saying it shows up in every facet, but it's there. And you have to kind of understand that, acknowledge that so that you can understand where we are now.
Hala Taha: Yeah. And I feel like COVID is sort of a silver lining because it was like this disruption that is allowing us to rethink these structures and corporate life and what it means to work in corporate and what it means to have an office job. And I think it's actually allowing us to rethink and maybe have some positive change in this area.
Deepa Purushothaman: I completely agree. I think it's back to that idea that this is the moment, right? If we were ever going to make change, if we're ever changed, was ever possible, it has to be now because we've had these conversations for a really long time, but there feels like there's an urgency. I also think in addition to COVID and people leaving and the race conversation, there's also a more of an awareness of the impact we're having even on the planet in a way that I don't know that we had prior to COVID and questions around, you know, capitalism and what companies are producing and the waste, and, you know, the impact that they're having on the environment, all of those things are real.
And whether we work from home or where we work from the office that matters, it impacts the environment. We've seen that in the last two years. So it's also tied together. I think there's no longer an ability to say that we're not impacting and that these entrenched issues can't be solved if we don't actually work differently. And so that's also where I think we are with these things.
Hala Taha: Um, so I want to switch gears a little bit. So, you know, I was reading your book and there was one part where you're talking about how that being successful. Sometimes for women of color and just women in general means toning down our looks or the ways that we dress toning down our personalities in order to fit in and to not stand out.
And I have to say like, honestly, if I had a dollar for every time, somebody told me to tone down my looks, like I would be, you know, filthy rich. And the other thing is that it's very, for me personally, it's been very contradictory. So when I was in corporate, I, you know, at one point I was basically working three jobs.
I had my podcast, I had my side hustle and I had, um, my corporate job and I had no time. And I was becoming an influencer on LinkedIn and I'd get comments from everyone because I would have no time to do my hair. I'd have no time to like really get my makeup done. I'd be like, you know, in a phone booth and like, just like trying to get things done because all I cared about was the work and the impact that was putting out in the world.
I didn't care what I looked like. And I would get complaint, even though I love to be dolled up. And that's my personality. That was my priority is to put out content, not to look like a like a model or something. Right. And so people would tell me like, oh, you need to do your hair. You need to wear more makeup, stop wearing this ugly headphones.
Why aren't you dressing up? You look like you just got out of the shower. I would get all these comments from people you need to do more. Right. You need to be more, you need to do more. Like, it's not good enough that you're smart. Like, we also need you to be pretty like, you know, but then once I stopped working in corporate and had more time and started getting dolled up, people would be like, toned down.
Like, why are you showing off so much? Can you dress more conservatively? Like you don't look like the CEO. Right. And so it's, this you're too much or too little you're too much or too little. Talk to us about that. Like, like talk to us about that experience.
Deepa Purushothaman: So much there. I mean, it, this is actually one of the topics I used to talk about quite a bit, and I think it pertains to all women across the board. Right. Um, I, there's a line in the book where I talk about Goldilocks, right? It's like not the right temperature, no matter what, not the right. Too much, too little.
I think it's really hard. I think. I mean, and you brought it up before. I think there's a lot of sexualization of women of color. And so that's also part of the confusion or if that is, you know, if, what's the right word, fetishism around women of color. And so that's also really confusing. Um, similar to you.
I was really young when I was in these positions and I used to get a lot of comments about what I look like. And it was really confusing and people. You know, I, and I think people would say it and it was supposed to be a comp compliment and I didn't know what to do with it. Cause it's also not what you're trained to look for or want in corporate America.
I used to get a lot of comments because I used to dress trendy. And so people would say, but you're younger. Cause I was a good four years younger than most of the people in my role, but you might want to not dress trendy. So we take you more seriously. Right? That was a common thing. Or I remember going up for my partner session.
So when you're up for partner, you present to this panel, this big group of people, and there were like 20 people in the room and they critique this presentation. You've basically been work your business case for why you're ready to be a partner. And it was a friend. So it wasn't like this wasn't formal counsel.
He was a mentor to me. He said, you should really think about what you're going to wear. You should probably wear a power suit. Do you have glasses and can you put your hair up because that might also help you not look so young. So for me, it was more about young than anything, and I found it really confusing is that one, that's not who I am, but also what am I trying to emulate?
What am I trying to look for? Like, what is that? And so I think we give women a lot of different messages about what they look like and what they should be. And there's a line in that story, in the book where a woman was given advice that she couldn't be smart and pretty, and she should pick one as a woman of color.
And that's really true. Like I've had that happen to me too. Like, you know, so it's there and. I think It's really confusing. And I think no matter what you do, you're going to get feedback that you're too much of something, especially as a woman of color. And so my advice and what I'm asking women to do is to lean into who they are and what feels right to them and know that there may be some backlash to that.
But if you don't feel powerful and that's why the theme of powers throughout the book, too, that we ended up, you know, rising, or we ended up in these seats and we don't feel powerful because we've given up so much of who we are and what we think is important to us. And in order for us to feel powerful, like truly powerful as women and women of color we need to do what also makes us happy and what makes us feel powerful.
So if putting on lipstick and doing your hair makes you feel. More power to you. If it doesn't, then that should be okay too. I did a podcast earlier this week and someone asked me that question. He's like, did you get like, and I've, haven't blessed makeup because it's Friday afternoon. Now I had a lot more makeup on, you said, did you get dressed up for this podcast?
Do you feel like you have to do that? And it was a genuine question. And we actually talked about it and talked about how there's actually data that shows for women and Zoom. It's actually been really hard to there's more, um, like Botox, there was more money being spent on makeup and there's more cosmetic surgery right now because women are seeing themselves on zoom all day and seeing like lines and things that they, you know, didn't used to look at before.
And so I think it's actually been really hard for women and women of color to kind of have, you know, now you're looking at your face on day when you haven't done that either. So there's just a lot around beauty and what is acceptable and what is powerful and even. What is acceptable. There's some research and studies out there that suggest you have more power in your twenty-five to 30 to 40.
And once you start to get older and aren't seen as attractive, you lose some of your power actually. So is there a finite window where if you're too young, you're not powerful, but if you're too old, you're not powerful. So what is that window? Right. That's also fascinating. to me. so I think we got to throw that all away and Just, kind of do what works for us. That's my message.
Hala Taha: Just flush it down the toliet
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah,
Hala Taha: We don't need any of that. I just say screw that. I wear whatever I want to do whatever I want. And whoever likes me likes me. And so far it's working and I feel like that's kind of the advice that you give too
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, but I, but I, think it takes, I think it takes a lot to get there. I think that's, and that's, we have to be fair to the women where that doesn't come naturally. You've probably done a lot of work to get to that point. And it's probably been by trial and error. Like my, my whole thing is I did a lot in my early.
That I wasn't happy with. And so I just decided, I finally had to be happy by leaning more into me, but that took a lot. And so I think that's what we have to do more. It's like more of us that have found that power and found that ability and found that flex to do us, like, how did we get there? And that's part of what we need to unpack in our conversations.
Hala Taha: Yeah, totally. So we talked about corporate delusions and I left to talk about personal delusions because you say they're just as dangerous as corporate delusion. So what are some common, personal delusions that exist for women of color?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah. So I think a lot of us have imposter syndrome. Like all women I think is it's very high. And so this idea that you're not enough and that is a message that we play on repeat and we have to actively reprogram. Whereas I think a lot of men, the data suggests that they just walk into room. They're just taught to be confident.
Whereas we're taught to talk about the things we don't know. So that's just one, I found differences amongst different women of color and kind of what they were taught growing up. So a lot of Latina women were told not to rock the boat in the research that I found, like don't bring attention to yourself.
A lot of the Asian women were just taught work hard and keep your head down. Right. A lot of the black women were told, straighten your hair. And this is what, this is what success looks like. And so there are different messages that were told even by our families. And that's part of what I talk about in the book is that so much of what we're taught about how to work comes from our families.
And so many of us are, first-generation like working in professional settings. And so where, how we work comes from these interesting antiquated ideas of what work is and what is what success is. But a lot of the message that we have to rewrite is as a universal woman of color is most often we're not enough.
And so that is a standard message. And we get that from family. We get that from school, we get that from media. Like when you don't see yourself, that's kind of what you end up replacing it with. And so part of our work in order to be able to be and do and dress, how we want is to remind ourselves where enough, and that takes active programming.
It takes active work. I call that work shedding and caring, shedding what doesn't serve you and carrying forward messages that do, but it almost takes like a life event or something that hasn't gone for you to. Go deep into that work because most of us have learned about six to 12 messages in childhood that come up for us when we're in stressful situations, they're usually from our parents.
If our parents told us we were too tall or too thin, or not smart enough or not hardworking enough or any of those things, when we get into stressful situations, that's what plays in our head. And so it's about reprogramming those messages. And for women of color, I found some patterns.
Hala Taha: Hm. Can you give us some actionable ways? If anybody out there is tuning in and feels like they do have these personal delusions, what are some actionable ways that they can help turn that around?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, so it's really about inner work. So it's about getting quiet with yourself. It's about journaling. It's about writing. Um, it's about walking in nature. It's I think we all know what we think success is. I think we all know what makes us happy. I think we all know what we like, but some of us haven't been taught that that's okay.
Like, so for me, I didn't grow up in a family where you leaned into all the things you enjoy. Like it was more life was about work and happiness came after the fact. Right? And so part of it is understanding that, and as I journaled or, as I told stories, there would be certain things that came up over and over again.
And once you understand them, which is the hardest part, then you can do active work, whether that's through meditation or working with a coach or finding outside resources to reprogram. But like the first work that you have to do is really know what they are for you. So pay really good attention in those stressful situations, pay attention to what a significant other says like you mumble all the time under your breath, right? Like pay attention to those things, because those can be signals for what are those messages that you need to rewrite and then you can find resources and ways to actually rewrite them.
Hala Taha: Um, awesome. So there's something that you talk about in your book and that's, uh, microaggressions and from my understanding, microaggressions are indirect discriminations towards a marginalized member of society. So microaggressions is, is I've heard it a lot. It's a pretty hot topic. Tell us in your own words, what they are some examples of them, because I think it's super important for men and women to understand this. And especially for men to help kind of stopped doing it.
Deepa Purushothaman: yeah. So a couple of examples and I, again, I am, uh, not everyone believes this, but I think we have microaggressions and I think we have racism and I think there are a spectrum. And when incidents happen or people say something, sometimes I think they're more racism, but a lot of times microaggressions can be a form of racism.
Right. So it's just, it's almost the severity of what is being said. So they can be as simple as did you come, are you, were you born in this country? Did you come to this country? Like, that's a question I get every day almost. Right. And maybe it's not supposed to be offensive, but it.
makes me feel like I don't belong or is English your first language?
Right? When did you learn how to speak English? Like I get that a lot. Those, so those are like, those are maybe more simple or more common ones. The ones that came up in the book were really fascinating for me. So there would be two Asian women in a department and people would confuse them all the time and call one by the other's name.
And I can't explain to you as a person who already feels not seen to be called the wrong name for years. I don't mean like once or twice. So there's story in the book where the, these two Asian women work together in a, in a banking situation. And I want to say almost for six years, like there, there are two supervisors up who knew them for the entire.
Would confuse their names as they ended up sitting next to each other in a meeting where he had to see both of them, acknowledged both of them and almost, you know, confronted him in this very visual way after correcting him for years, that that's not my name. So that's an example.
Um, there was another situation or story in the book where there is a female broker and she shared with me that she, you know, she had a, um, hard to understand what she was by ethnicity and race by her name.
So it was like an, an unrecognizable name. And when she met one of her clients for the first time, he said to her, I assumed you were white by how you spoke. Right. And it was kind of shocked that she was a black woman and you know, didn't really know what to do. And she stuck out her hand to actually meet him and said, I'm the person you came to see?
And he was like, no, I'm not. I came to see, I came to see Lisa. And she was like, I'm Lisa. And he was like, no, I I'm sure you're not Lisa. Right. Those are examples of what I would say is probably more racist than a microaggression, but still the same sort of feeling and the intent. And what I really talk about in the book is understanding even sometimes the most well-intentioned things can go astray and it's women of color.
And even as allies, when someone says something that makes someone uncomfortable, let's all practice things we can say. So I'm not talking about publicly shaming them. Although I give some examples of what you can do, if you're at that point in your career as well, because sometimes we've tried to correct the situation.
Then we have to go to really public extreme situations. But for the most part, it's practicing things. You can say like what you just said hurt me. I don't know if you really understand what you said. Here's why that doesn't work. And to practice that as women of color, because what I also am telling women of color is these things are going to happen to you.
Like, don't think they won't happen to you. They absolutely will happen to you. Whether it's what you look like, or you know, your education or, you know, your, your tone, what you're wearing. Like you're going to get these pieces of feedback and you get to decide what you take in. That's part of like what we have to do around our agency, but as allies or horse or men in the room, we're on zoom who hear somebody say something inappropriate.
I'm also asking you to kind of practice what you're going to say. Cause I think when someone says something inappropriate, we're all shocked. We're all kind of like, did that just happen? And we don't know what to do, and I'm not asking, you know, white men or men to save us, but I'm saying it's also your work to self-correct.
It can't be all on us to always correct everything. So if something doesn't feel right and I tell women, and I think this applies to allies too, if something in your gut, like just someone said something, it just feels like queasy or uneasy. Lean into that, you know, and I, myself wait 10 minutes. So like I used to react to everything and that's also like very high energy and draining.
So now, like I wait 10 minutes and if 10 minutes later I'm still boiling. Cause someone said something, I then say like, we need to go back because that really bothered me. And I can't even focus on what we're talking about now, because I know if I'm boiling for 10 minutes, I'm going to boil for the rest of the day.
So I needed to intervene. But I learned that over time, I learned by let him so many things go that I finally realized, like I know when I need to say something and do something.
Hala Taha: Hmm. I think that's really good advice to wait 10 minutes. Sometimes we just are emotional and say things that we don't mean. It also gives you time to kind of reflect on how you want to approach the situation. So you don't kind of, you know, instigate it in the wrong way.
So I totally agree there. Um, let's talk about toxic messaging towards women of color. What's what's an example of toxic messaging?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, I think toxic messaging are things like you don't belong here. You know, you, you, um, we've never had people like you here before, you know, it's it's comments like that, that are more than not belonging. It's almost making a statement that you don't want. Have a place, right. And it's not really up to other people that we tell is that we don't have a place.
Um, my partner and I visit my business partner, Rha, I recently did a Ted talk. And one of the things we talk about is toxic rock stars. Um, and it's a term I love because I think it speaks to this idea that sometimes high-performers get away with really bad behavior and companies, and it's not just racism and sexism, it's all the things.
And there's no penalty for them because they're high producers. And so this idea that we have to have penalties for toxic rockstars, maybe once or twice, we can say they just didn't understand, but that can't be acceptable in corporate America. And we have to take some action against it and hold those people responsible too, because the longer we keep them in positions of power, the more we're saying to the rest of us, like, that's okay, we're not going to penalize them.
So that's kind of the, the, the example and the analogy that we use. Like we're basically asking corporate America to retire their toxic rock stars because they're actually creating cultures that suggest we care about, you know, performance. Over people. And that's a really hard message for a lot of people to digest.
Hala Taha: Yeah, as you're talking, it just reminds me of my story a bit, because honestly, when I started my podcast, I never thought I was going to quit corporate. I had a great job at Hewlett Packard, you know, promoted five times really was high up, moved to Disney streaming services. Also like literally never thought that I'd be an entrepreneur.
It wasn't until, so HP was actually something I think we need to call out is that every company is different, right? Every company has a different culture. HP, in my opinion has a very positive. And their culture is almost like futuristic in terms of how inclusive they are. They've had women CEOs. And so there's lots of women in leadership powers.
I was promoted freely as a young person. I was respected. I went to Disney and it was like a boys club. And I felt like I was never even like at Hewlett Packard, I thought that I could become the CEO. Like I literally felt that way. And I felt like I was being primed that way. I got recruited to Disney and I was like, I don't even think I could become the director of this department, like in 20 years.
Like that's how much of a boys club it was. And that's why I left because I was like this, like I don't ever want to be in this situation where I don't have control over my destiny, just because I look young or I'm a woman and I'm not being, and I'm not being treated as if, you know, In relation to the amount of experience and contributions that I make.
So a part of this, I just wanted to call out is that every company is different. Right. And, and also, I just feel like more women of color I'm sure. And just women in general are going to become entrepreneurs when they realize that, you know, they can become much more successful outside of these organizations that kind of push them down.
Deepa Purushothaman: Yeah, I think that's right. I, you know, there's a chapter in the book called stay or go because that's honestly what, where this book started for me. Like, should I stay or should I go?
Um, and that chapter really talks about, you know, the fact that cultures are different. And even if you're in a culture, that's not working for you, maybe there are other things you can try.
And I lay out some of those things. I also think not to your point, not all cultures are the same and we need to do more research and we need everyone, not just women of color, but like do research before you go somewhere, call people at your level or even below you and ask questions. You know, people are surprised when I say that they're like, are people going to be honest?
Yes. I think we're in a day and age where people are honest about what their experiences are and if they're having a bad experience, they're not going to tell you to go. So I think it's like really doing what you can do to understand and appreciating that the companies are different. And candidly, all, I think almost every company is working on this issue.
Like there, there is not, there's not. You know, gold star examples on inclusion because how we're doing it and what we're talking about is so new. So I think it's really important to go to a culture and look at cultures where you can learn where you're aligned with their values, but also where they're open to the fact that they're not all getting it right, and that there are, there is work to be done and that you can be part of the change.
I think that's part of what it means to look for somewhere or go somewhere else. And I also think more than ever you're right. Data is suggesting more women of color, especially black women are starting businesses now more than ever. And when I talk to them, it's because they want to create cultures that work for them.
They're tired of the same old, same old, and they don't trust that they can find a different one somewhere else. So we're also in this really interesting moment where there's more mass Exodus for women and women of color than ever before. And I think we're, we're seeing like real success stories around women who are starting businesses with a different culture and a different intent and trying to solve not only with their core products, but even how they run their companies, some of these equity issues. So it's exciting. You know, I also feel like, yeah, like, like this is, this is the moment that where things can change. And so let's, let's all do our part.
Hala Taha: Amazing. So, as we wrap up this interview, one of the things that you mentioned in your book is that we need to find the power of me and the power of we. So what does it mean to also build with collective power in terms of this topic?
Deepa Purushothaman: So the power of me is that work. I talked about the shedding and the carrying figuring out for you what success is and what happiness is and not taking other people's definitions. So many of us, especially if you come from immigrant backgrounds are told what that is. And we talked about that earlier.
So that's all the me stuff, right. It's really leaning into. What makes you who you are and what do you believe for yourself? Not what your parents and what school is told you. The power of we is this idea that we can't change structures by ourselves. So you and I can have the best idea, but you can't go back to your previous company and make change on your own.
So finding the power of we, whether that's through groups, like nFormation, where we're coming together and having these discussions, whether that's you and your girlfriends, or, you know, guys getting drinks after, in once a month and having discussions, that's how we think of new ideas. That's how we re-imagine, that's how we work together, you know, a quarter into it.
So nFormation is only a year old, but a quarter into our existence. We pulled our members and some of the feedback we got was just in, in those few months, 25% of our members asked for more pay, left their job, or got a promotion as a result of asking as a result of just seeing each other. It's not something special I'm teaching or Rha is teaching.
It's just that they saw each other and they realized that they can ask and we're all getting, you know, pushed down. So let's ask for more. And so that's the collective power, I think it gives you Voice and ability to maybe even ask for more than you would ask for on your own. And that's how we changed structures.
Hala Taha: Mm. So what do you hope for, for the future of corporate America in terms of inclusivity and diversity?
Deepa Purushothaman: I think the real conversation is about making safe space and really being honest about the conversations we need to have. So, you know, a couple of years ago, um, after George Floyd's murder, there was a space where companies did what I called soundings. And if people aren't familiar with that term, it's like where they would hold town halls, where they would hold these closed door sessions and ask their people of color or as diverse talent.
Like what is it like to be here? And although they did that in some companies got data, most companies didn't get honest truth because there was really no reward for telling honest truth in those situations. And so part of what we, what we need to create, what I hope for is spaces where we can have honest conversation about what's happening and then really listen as leaders and then eventually make change.
So that work really does work for us all. And that's the path I think we need to listen, then take like measured action, not just throw a bunch of stuff on the wall and hope some of it sticks as a company and as a culture and it's changing culture so that we all, you know, it works for all of us. So that's what I hope.
Hala Taha: Cool. So, um, the last couple of questions I ask all my guests on the show and we do some fun things at the end of the year to kind of chop them up and create like different content series out of them. So what is one actionable thing that our listeners can do today to become more profitable tomorrow?
Deepa Purushothaman: Invest in themselves. You know, if there is something that you've always wanted to learn, do it. Don't, don't, you know, don't germinate over whether you should just go do it. Like I think learning and growing yourself is just the most rewarding and most important thing we can do as individuals and entrepreneurs for our business.
Hala Taha: I totally agree. Everybody's focused on investing in stocks, investing get that, go take that course, invest in yourself, level up your skills. You'll make a lot of money over on your skills that you, that you, uh, that you acquire. Uh, very good. So what is your secret to profiting in life?
Deepa Purushothaman: It's listening to myself and listening to my body because I didn't for so long. So if I'm tired, if I, if I have a headache, I used to just keep working and I don't anymore. If something doesn't feel good and you know, like someone has just said something that's offensive. I listened to my gut. So it's really listening to myself in new ways.
That's, that's how I think we all should be like listening to our intuition more to our gut. And I think in business, sometimes we're not taught to do that. And so I think that's really where wisdom, power possibility comes from.
Hala Taha: Awesome. And so where can our listeners go learn about you and everything that you do?
Deepa Purushothaman: Yes. So if you can go to Deepa, Puru, so D E E P a P U R u.com. Everything from nFormation to the book, to all the places where I'm speaking, it's all there. And, you know, knowing your speakers are mostly men, like this is all of our work, so I hope they'll come learn more, be part of the movement to make change for all us.
Hala Taha: Amazing. And your book comes out March 1st. So by the time this interview comes out, I think that your book will already be out. Where can people go find your book?
Deepa Purushothaman: Um, on Amazon, on all the places or at the website, as well as the Deepa Puru we have, um, multiple places you can, you can buy it from,
Hala Taha: Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much deeper. This was such a great conversation. Thanks again for your time.
Deepa Purushothaman: thank you. Thank you for having me.
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