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Deepa Purushothaman

We have an opportunity to tap into the collective power of WOC in the workforce.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader | Former Senior Partner at Deloitte | Author of The First, the Few, the Only (forthcoming)

Contact Deepa For Booking
Deepa Purushothaman | Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader | Former Senior Partner at Deloitte | Author of The First, the Few, the Only (forthcoming)
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Despite being one of the fastest-growing segments in the corporate workforce, women of color remain underrepresented—often among the first, few, or only ones in a department or company. The first Indian-American woman to make partner at Deloitte, Deepa Purushothaman knows this first-hand. Today, as organizations begin their post-pandemic planning, she uses her hands-on experience as a senior executive, specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion, to help us redefine power and profitability in corporate America—creating organizations that are truly inclusive for all.

“As women of color, we need to unearth our individual power. It is not power that comes from outside accolades...it's power that comes from inside of us.”

— Deepa Purushothaman

In the working world, women of color often receive the message that to be successful, they have to change who they are—leaving them feeling exhausted, frustrated, burned out, and isolated from their peers. Spending more than twenty years as a senior partner at Deloitte, Deepa Purushothaman experienced her own moments as a “first, few and only”, inspiring her to better understand the unique dynamics and challenges that WOC face in the workplace. In her time there, she helped grow Deloitte’s Social Impact Practice, served as a National Managing Partner of Inclusion, and served as the Managing Partner of WIN—the firm’s renowned program to recruit, retain, and advance women. Today, Purushothaman is the cofounder of nFormation: a first-of-its-kind community platform for women of color, by women of color. Focusing on women’s leadership and inclusion strategies, Purushothaman’s mission is to help women of color navigate the complex and often opaque corporate structures of today—helping them not only take a seat at the table, but change the way the table is formed. 

 

Her forthcoming book builds upon this mission. Titled The First, the Few, the Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America, (HarperCollins, March 2022) her debut is a deeply personal call-to-action for women of color to find power from within themselves, join together in community with each other, and advocate for a new kind of corporate environment. One where they are accepted on their own terms. It is only by fully realizing our own strengths, that we can build collective power and use it to confront microaggressions, outdated norms, and workplace misconceptions, says Purushothaman. Her boundary-pushing work helps create cultures where belonging is never conditional, and inclusion is the norm, not the exception.

 

Purushothaman is a Women and Public Policy Program Leader in Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she concentrates on research and strategies to combat systemic racism in corporate structures. She has degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard Kennedy School, and the London School of Economics. She is also an Aspen Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and has served on the Boards of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and Avasara (a leadership academy for girls in India). Purushothaman speaks frequently about race and gender issues and has been featured at national conferences and in publications including Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, and Harvard Business Review.  

Speech Topics

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
The First, the Few, the Only How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America
For too long, the corporate world has underestimated, dismissed, and pressured women of color to conform. Despite being one of the fastest-growing segments in the workforce, WOC are still underrepresented, often the first, the few, or the only ones in a department or company.
 
Deepa Purushothaman is on a mission to change this. As a former senior partner at a large global services firm, Purushothaman experienced feelings of isolation and burnout that are all too common among WOC in the workplace. She met with hundreds of other women of color across industries and cultural backgrounds, eager to hear about their unique and shared experiences. In doing so, she has come to understand the collective setbacks facing WOC in the workplace—and the path forward for creating transformational change.
 
In this inspiring talk, rooted in the lived experiences of women of color, Purushothaman brings us a roadmap for how we can create a profound and lasting impact in our organizations—ensuring that everyone is heard, respected, and valued for who they truly are.
Leadership
Leadership Looks Like Me Recruiting and Advancing POC in the Workplace
Growing up, Deepa Purushothaman saw very few role models that looked like her in the corporate world, but she refused to let it stop her from reaching her full potential. The first Indian-American woman to make partner at Deloitte, Purushothaman made a point of becoming a national inclusion leader within the organization, whole-heartedly invested in addressing the diversity gap from the top down, and helping clients do the same.
 
The idea that diverse talent is hard to find is a myth, says Purushothaman. We need to first expand our definition of what a leader looks like, and then consciously seek out people that deviate from the white, male standard. Sometimes it's that companies are not looking for talent in the right places. But more commonly, the organizational pressure on POC employees to conform, combined with a tendency towards tokenism, creates breaks in the pipeline from the inside.
 
This must-listen presentation is two-fold: first, drawing from cutting-edge research and methodologies, it will help you evolve your definition of leadership and leadership rules—an early step to creating a company culture that fosters belonging and true inclusion. Then, it will give you concrete and actionable strategies for finding, retaining, and advancing people of color within your organization.
Corporate Culture
Reimagining Work Addressing Burnout and Workplace Trauma
The old rules of the work told us that in order to get ahead, we have to out-shine, out-work, and out-do the next person. That antiquated mentality is rapidly changing, as the workplace as we know it is going through a revolution. If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that we need to reprioritize our mental and physical well-being at work in order to avoid burnout and find meaning and fulfilment in what we do. A psychologically safe workplace is now widely recognized as being integral to our health and happiness, both inside and outside of work.
 
In her high-powered career as a senior executive, Deepa Purushothaman encountered the challenges of performing, conforming, and efforting to get ahead. When her body started to revolt—with several of her doctors questioning if she “lived to work”—she knew it was time for her to redefine success on her own terms. Adapting to these systems can negatively impact our health and well-being, says Purushothaman. It is when we show up centered and balanced that the system can surprise us and provide us with options and opportunities we hadn’t imagined. 
 
In this groundbreaking talk, Purushothaman reveals the ways we can tap into to our own voice, have courageous conversations about difficult topics, and unapologetically advocate for ourselves at work.
Gender
Reclaiming Authenticity How Women Can Lead with Inner Wisdom and Power
As women and young girls, we are given models of success and power that are largely male and white. The messaging is clear: to get ahead, we must shed who we are and embrace the stereotypical, masculine qualities that have been assigned to leadership. We must deny our femininity, limit our empathy, and lead with our heads over our hearts in order to be a “great” leader.
 
Deepa Purushothaman offers a counter-narrative: rather than conforming to a rigid, impossible standard, women can tap into the power and wisdom that comes with being fully themselves. Drawing from her own experience as an Indian-American woman in the corporate world, Purushothaman offers captivating alternatives to the modes of leadership we’ve been taught.
 
We are most powerful as women when we remember where we came from and who we are, says Purushothaman. Carrying this inner wisdom may be the most important solution for what ails our world right now. This talk, inspiring as it is actionable, shows us how to reclaim our power.