How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer

For most of your life, you likely have been told how unique, how wonderful, how important you are. You’re one of a kind, singular, like no one else on Earth.

All of which is true.

And, according to “The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America,” by Deepa Purushothaman (Harper Business, March 2022), such statements probably hold true at work, too.

Most workplaces were made for men. If you’re a woman, you already know this. It’s evident in the height of the counters, the number of permanent walls in the office, and the temperature of its rooms.

Women of color feel that truth more keenly, especially if you’re the first one at your workplace, or one of a few, or the only one there now. With no other woman of color to bounce ideas with, no been-there-done-that work friends to hash things through, how do you survive and thrive at work?

In “The First, The Few, The Only,” Purushothaman, a former senior executive at Deloitte, answers there are three main ways.

First, “Find Your Power.” Eliminate delusions that you or your bosses may hold, and hear the messages you’re getting. They can see you, when it comes to hiring. You can fit in without losing a part of yourself. Closely notice the lessons you’ve learned from your family and your culture, and be sure that you’re sending the right lessons to the next generation.

Second, Take care of yourself “When Your Mind and Body Speak.” Look for your own joy. Know the detrimental effects of racism and ignore the urge to “work harder” just because of your skin color. Don’t feel the need to “represent.” Know what to do about those microaggressions you seem to hear constantly.

Finally, seize “The Power of We.” Find your community in the corporate world at large. Be open to learning, and changing “the game” from within. Know what six things to ask yourself if you’re thinking about a new job. And never forget who you are.

Women of color “need to work together… in Corporate America to create what comes next,” says Purushothaman.

“The First, The Few, The Only” can be a little on the new-age side and probably is full of information you already know. Still, it’s a pretty good book to have around.

Consider it a place for confirmation. If you’re a woman of color, Deepa Purushothaman speaks directly to your experiences as the first Indian-American woman and one of the youngest people to make partner in Deloitte’s history. She offers sympathy and camaraderie – somewhat like a cathartic Happy Hour, but in book form. There’s advice that you can use, including tips for those hours when you aren’t working.

You can also consider this a primer if you’re not a women and whether or not you are of color. Supervisors, CEOs, and business owners who want to do better have a place to start here, with a dive into what you don’t know, what you shouldn’t do, and irritations your new employee probably won’t tell you.

“The First, the Few, the Only” is a book to read on your lunch break, or to let your boss see you reading, if you dare. If you work with woman of color, learn and be better. There’s nothing like it.