LiveRamp was honored to have Deepa Purushothaman as a guest speaker during LiveRamp’s AAPI Heritage Month celebration. She shared how she broke through the “bamboo ceiling”—the barriers many Asian professionals face in ascending to leadership roles—as the first Indian woman partner at Deloitte, and now helps people of color prevent burnout, and speak up at work, while providing knowledge on how allies can support them.
Deepa spent more than 20 years in corporate America charting her own path to success without many women or people of color role models in the positions she aspired to reach. Asian Americans represent about 12% of the U.S. workforce and 30% or more of the tech workforce, but only about 4.4% of directors at Fortune 1000 companies are Asian American, according to Ascend, a national organization promoting Asian American corporate professionals.
“I was one of the first and one of the only women of color at the table. I felt such responsibility to the women coming up after me and around me,” Deepa shared in her TEDx talk, Shedding and Carrying to Step Into New Leadership, centered on the genesis of her post-Deloitte career. “The women of color I met were in seats of power but they weren’t feeling powerful.”
To launch her current venture, nFormation, Deepa met with more than 1000 women of color in leadership positions to create a fuller picture of the trials and challenges that they often face throughout their careers. These interviews form the core of her recently published book, The First, The Few, The Only.
“I wanted to put words around my different experiences and give words to women of color and their experiences, which so often go unrecognized,” Deepa said.
We were fortunate to have Deepa share her experiences and advice with LiveRampers to help them break the bamboo ceiling and remove barriers to entry and success across communities. Here are two powerful takeaways from our conversation:
Choose your power
Women of color must work significantly harder than white and male colleagues to gain recognition, in addition to the emotional work they experience in a biased system prone to racism and microaggressions. Women can’t fix it all, so they must choose what they have the power to fix.
Deepa calls this “shedding and carrying”—shedding messages that do not serve you or you cannot fix, and carrying forward messages that lift you up. “I don’t want you to do more,” Deepa said. “Decide where to put your energy and what you can really fix. We get to decide how we show up for ourselves.”
One way to shed some of the emotional burden created by microaggressions is to prepare for these situations before they happen. Deepa suggests writing down three responses that you can use in the moment of experiencing a microaggression and to practice saying your responses out loud. Allies can do this too when practicing how to intervene in uncomfortable and inappropriate situations.
“We’re so often taught as Asian women to be nice, and nice doesn’t always work,” Deepa said about showing up for yourself.
The power of we vs. the power of me
Change happens when women and people of color find other people who are facing similar challenges. When people begin to focus on the “power of we.” This space can be formed through employee resource groups (ERGs).
“Belonging is about safe space and about being able to speak up when something isn’t working and sharing your stories,” Deepa said. “Creating safe spaces is core to developing leaders.”
Allies are included in the “power of we.” Here are a few ways that everyone can support women of color in the workplace:
- Leverage leadership positions to set the tone, such as canceling meetings that don’t include diverse voices. Deepa shared an example of seeing a white male leader leave a meeting when he saw only other white men present.
- Choose to fund and be an executive sponsor of ERGs, creating a pathway for these groups to share concerns or issues with executive leadership.
- Uplift the voices of women of color in meetings, and ensure that credit is given where it’s due.
- Intervene in racist or microaggressive situations. Don’t be a bystander.
- Reward and recognize the work that ERGs and individuals are doing to improve inclusivity in the workplace.
Thanks to Deepa for her openness and insights. After this event, one LiveRamper shared “Deepa made me feel heard, visible, and empowered. Her ability to articulate the importance of various perspectives truly resonated and I am very thankful to have attended this event.”
If you are interested in learning more about LiveRamp and making an impact on our work and community, check out our open positions.