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How Women of Color Are Changing What Leadership Looks Like

One in five Americans is a woman of color, and women of color will be the majority of all women in America by 2060, according to Catalyst. These changing demographics alone won’t automatically alter the representation of leadership, where currently only 4% of C-suite leaders are women of color. “We need to expand our impressions about what a leader is supposed to look like to allow for more types of leadership to be valued and promoted,” says Deepa Purushothaman, author of The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America. “If you want to support women of color, you have to let us lead in our own ways.”

I spoke to Purushothaman—who was also the first Indian woman to become a partner at Deloitte, and who is now co-founder of nFormation, a professional space for women of color—about her new book, and how to redefine leadership to be more inclusive. She notes that she uses “women of color” in solidarity, but it is not a monolith, as the term encompasses different cultures, identities and experiences. Here is her advice after interviewing more than 500 women of color about their leadership experiences in the workplace.

On imposter syndrome…

Imposter syndrome, or doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud, may disproportionately impact women, and particularly women of color. Bias, stereotypes and a lack of representation in leadership positions strongly influence whether or not people feel like they belong in the workplace.

“I wrote a mantra, ‘You don’t have to see it to be it,’ which is the opposite of what we tell most people,” says Purushothaman. “I had to do that because, if I didn’t, imposter syndrome would take over. The biggest challenge with not seeing yourself represented is that you start to question yourself and who and what you are. You start to edit yourself bit by bit, trying to fit in because others [in the room] look differently from you. You can end up muting your voice.”


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