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Life at Deloitte
Deepa Purushothaman: Change agent
Work, life, and leadership driven by purpose
Having forged a successful career, Deepa Purushothaman reflects on her own experiences doubting, discovering, and defining her voice–as a woman, a minority, and a leader.
Understand what shapes you
Deepa Purushothaman, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, is a lot of firsts—a first generation Indian-American, one of the first women in her family to pursue a professional career, and Deloitte Consulting's first female principal of Indian descent in the US. But early in her career, she didn't want to be known for her gender or ethnicity. She was determined to be great at her job and be known for what she did rather than for who or what she was. Over her 16-year career, however, Deepa realized her view needed to evolve.
As she first started at Deloitte, Deepa began to understand that her upbringing and personal experiences informed her work and leadership style in subtle but important ways. "As a younger professional, I tended to be deferential to authority, often waiting to speak until a more senior colleague was finished, which, in the Indian culture, is expected and is what came naturally to me," she said. "But once I became aware that my respectful pause was maybe perceived as hesitance or lack or assertiveness, I adjusted the ways I expressed myself without losing what made me, me."
It was a powerful lesson for her, one she's taken to heart and uses every day in her roles as the managing principal for Deloitte's Women's Initiative (WIN), a board member for a promising new academy for girls in India, and a leader of Deloitte Consulting's Social Impact practice.
Find your way
Since Deepa arrived at Deloitte, she has spent most of her career working in the Telecommunications, Media, and Technology industry. This was a surprising path since she joined Deloitte after completing a graduate program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government rather than earning an MBA like most new hires out of graduate school.
Deepa most recently worked in the Silicon Valley, where her experiences have helped her to understand that, in spite of the tremendous progress that's been made, there is still much to be done in terms of gender equality. "We have work to do," she says, "and I see Deloitte as a platform for making change."
Deepa always imagined that she would drive change through public service. For a long time, Deepa perceived the work she did at Deloitte and a life of purpose as two separate paths. She had her daily job with Deloitte and sought purpose in venues outside work.
I struggled to find my path and my leadership style. It wasn't until I was a senior manager that I started to find my voice. That self-discovery process taught me to focus on my strengths and the traits I want to develop. I've chosen to be a change agent.
Deepa Purushothaman, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP
"You can't dictate a person's sense of purpose; everyone needs to discover that on their own. I strongly believe our Inclusion and WIN programs can help our people make that discovery and become the true architects of their careers."
Discover your sense of purpose
Her thinking has evolved and Deepa has found ways to marry her daily work with a greater sense of impact and creating change. For more than 20 years, WIN has played an instrumental role in moving the needle at Deloitte and Deepa has some definite ideas for enhancing WIN's influence and impact throughout the organization. As WIN leader, Deepa would like to see:
- A reinvigorated discussion about WIN and Inclusion to make them more approachable topics that engage men and women together in the conversation. She believes the next wave of change will come only when everyone joins in the discussion and sees how it is relevant to them.
- A commitment to engaging our people across and beyond traditional demographic categories. Many of our people—millennials in particular—want to be valued for their multiple identities instead of being defined by a single demographic trait. She believes WIN needs to be revamped to remain relevant to millennials.
- A stronger voice around STEM. Deepa's work in the Technology, Media, & Telecommunications industry allowed her to do many things–from IT implementations to CEO advisory roles. But she realized when visiting with some of her technology and telecommunications clients that they were often not gender-diverse. Sitting in those C-suites, she found she was often the only woman in the room.
- All of us advance our conversations around women of color. As a woman of color herself, Deepa is all too aware of the many challenges, but through her personal experiences, she also understands the opportunities.
Create purpose for others
Enabling others to see those opportunities and have the drive, confidence, and skills to embrace them are a huge part of Deepa's sense of purpose. Addressing gender inequality and helping other Indian women is what's driven her work with Avasara Leadership Academy for girls in India.
Founded by her sister, Roopa, the academy is the only one of its kind in the country. After 10 years of planning, Avasara opened its doors in August 2015. When fully up and running, the academy will enroll 500 girls.
Live your purpose—daily
Being true to her sense of purpose and finding ways to bring purpose to her daily work life was a large reason behind a significant career shift that Deepa made in 2015. After more than 15 years of working with some of the largest companies in the TMT industry, she joined Deloitte Consulting's new Social Impact practice.
"Part of the reason I moved to the Social Impact practice goes back to my policy roots and part was the excitement around building this new practice," she says. "We are at a time where the only way to solve some of our challenges is to bring together private/public/social interests to develop creative solutions to big problems. I think you are starting to see many traditional corporations grappling with social impact issues."
Whether leading a client engagement or moving the WIN program forward, Deepa advocates exploring new opportunities and shaping careers that are aligned to each individual's strengths. "Follow your voice, be honest with yourself about what you are good at, and align your purpose," she says. "Deloitte is a place where if you see something you want to do; there is likely a way to do it."
"I'm a first generation American, but I am still able to see myself in these girls. We've had different opportunities, yes, but I realized more of a connection with them than I imagined I would."