On our show we often talk about money confidence — how we can feel good about the decisions we make with our finances. We also often talk about career confidence, and what it looks like to negotiate a salary and earn what we’re worth… But this week we’re talking about how we can be more confident in every aspect of our lives. As women there will be many occasions — some of them so subtle we might not even notice them at first — when we’re asked to conform and perform in very specific ways so that we can be accepted or taken seriously. It’s exhausting, and no one feels this more than women of color. For far too long, women of color have been asked to hide parts of themselves in order to fit into the structure of corporate America that was built for white men.
The problem with trying to succeed as a woman of color in a model that wasn’t created for them is that their needs are not taken into account, and so they learn to hide the parts of themselves that don’t fit in — and oftentimes these are the very parts that make women feel powerful. This is a vicious cycle that for decades has left women of color questioning their own worth, day, after day, after day. And all of this came into stark focus during the pandemic, when women of color saw that corporate America was capable of making all manner of changes — some of them overnight — yet still had so much work to do where diversity and inclusion are concerned. Research in 2021 revealed that 1 in 3 women of color were considering leaving the workforce, highlighting just how little corporate leaders had done to change the collective pain points of women of color. Well, it is past time for us to break this cycle, and create lasting change that can work for every woman. We have to take steps to start dismantling outdated power structures so that the voices of a few women of color in the C-suite can become many.
This week, we’re discussing all of this with Deepa Purushothaman, author of THE FIRST, THE FEW, THE ONLY: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America. Deepa is the cofounder of nFormation, which provides space for professional women of color, and she’s 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 the first Indian American woman to make partner in the company’s history. She has degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard Kennedy School, and the London School of Economics…
Listen in as Jean and Deepa discuss her work at nFormation, which features programs including: Navigating Structural Racism, Redefining & Rising In Our Power, Purpose, Legacy and Calling, and so much more. We also discuss her book, which is based on 500+ interviews with women of color who were ‘first, fews, or onlys’ in Corporate America. She tells us why this book was important for her to write.
Deepa, details her journey as the first Indian woman to reach partnership at Deloitte, the height of America’s corporate ladder — yet despite reaching this accomplishment, she still felt isolation and burnout. She addresses candidly, what we can do, as women of color, if the current structure of corporate America — or the leadership at your company, specifically — has left you questioning your own worth.
She also discusses how women of color can be respected for their full spectrum of ideas, energy, and perspective they bring to the workforce. Because all too often white executives still see a woman of color hire as a DEI “box that’s been checked,” that allows them to continue on the path that they’re on without actually enabling or implementing any structural change — and that this is toxic. Deepa addresses how we can know when a company really respects a woman’s contributions, and how we can suss out if that company has made actual structural changes to help move the needle. (In other words, how to spot the difference between spotlighting diversity and actually honoring women of color.)
Deepa writes in her book: “We’ve been taught that if we work four times as hard as our white peers, we just might get a seat at the table, but when we get that seat, we realize we’re expected to maintain the status quo, no matter how toxic it might be.” She and Jean discuss what the status quo has been, and what we need it to look like.
We also discuss how we can begin to reframe the “fit in” and “lean in” mentalities that have left women feeling burnt out or isolated in the workplace, and how the conversation around imposter syndrome is changing.
In Mailbag, we take questions on the best options for investing/saving for children’s futures (including 529s) and we discuss backdoor Roth accounts. In Thrive, 10 places you can get birthday freebies.
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