Inspirational Woman: Deepa Purushothaman | Co-founder, nFormation

Meet Deepa Purushothaman

Co-founder, nFormation

Deepa is a former senior executive and a corporate inclusion visionary. She challenges and redefines the status quo of leadership, success, and power by centering the experiences of Women of Color.

As a senior partner at Deloitte, Deepa spent more than 20 years helping clients grow. She was also the US Managing Partner of WIN, Deloitte’s renowned Women’s Initiative, and was the first Indian-American woman and one of the youngest people to make partner in the firm’s history.

In 2020, Deepa left Deloitte to co-found nFormation, a membership-based community for professional Women of Color. She is an Executive Fellow at Harvard Business School, and a board member of Avasara, India’s first leadership academy for girls.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I spent 21 years in corporate; at one company in fact. I rose the ranks at Deloitte and left my career as a Partner in 2020 to focus on topics related to women of color.

I was the first Indian American woman to be named partner at Deloitte and I wanted to take some of what I learned as a first and share it with others.

Now, I call myself a corporate refugee, an author, and a corporate inclusion visionary. I am also the co-founder of nFormation, the first exclusive community for high achieving women of color.

I help reshape the workplace, so it works for all of us.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. In fact I would call myself an accidental consultant. My background was policy and politics. I joined Deloitte out of graduate school hoping to get 1-2 years of private sector experience and I stayed for over two decades. When I left in 2020, it was before we had come up with the label, “the great resignation,” I left without clarity on exactly what I wanted to do next, and many people gave me advice that I was being too frivolous and I had to be leaving to something not just exiting. But it has worked out better than I could have scripted.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Part of why I left is because I got sick. The lifestyle of being on the road, and the intense pressure I felt had been growing for a number of years. A few years before I left, it started to peak, and the stress made it hard to heal and started to show up in physical illness. I got really sick and had to spend almost 8 months in bed. I had to re-evaluate what was important to me and what success looks like for me.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’d say finding my voice and myself. I used to live to work and over the last few years I have found a new path and a new purpose, and it feels amazing to be doing work that matters to me and makes me feel whole.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I would say it is the “power of me and the power of we.” I talk about this in my book, The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Redefine Power in Corporate America. I had to figure out what matters to me and then I could set boundaries and figure out priorities. I had to let go of what I thought I should be doing. I also had to find the power of we, the power of community to find my voice and make change. I think for women to find success we need to figure out who we are and then we need to be in community.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

We all need mentoring. Success isn’t found on our own. I have had a lot of mentors and I try to pay it forward and mentor others.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Most women have been taught we have to work harder than the men around us. We do it at the cost of our families, our health, our wellbeing. We need to start being honest about how the system is broken.

We need to find ways so that when we do rise, we are in full voice not conforming to the norms around us. We need to let go of the idea that we must compromise to find power.

And we need to let go of the idea there is only room for a few of us at the top. We need to lift as we rise and find ways to collectively change the game as women. We need to work together.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

To be patient. To soak up everything around me and to not focus on what I don’t have or don’t know but to remember that I have everything I need inside, and my power comes from inside me, not from outside accolades.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to do more writing to help more women and women of color thrive, not just rise.

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