“The First, The Few, The Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America” by Deepa Purushothaman
c.2022, Harper Business
There’s no one like you.
For most of your life, you’ve been told how unique you are, how wonderful, how important, all true. You’re one of a kind, singular, you’re like no one else on Earth. And in the new book, “The First, The Few, The Only” by Deepa Purushothaman, that probably goes 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. But for Women of Color (WOC), that statement is keener, especially if you’re the first WOC in your workplace, one of a few, or the only WOC there now. So with no other WOC to bounce ideas with, no been-there-done-that work friends to hash things through, how do you survive and thrive at work?
Says Purushothaman, 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.
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.
And 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.
Says Purushothaman, WOC “need to work together… in Corporate America to create what comes next.”
Though it can be a little on the new-agey side and it’s probably full of information you already know, “The First, The Few, The Only” is a pretty good book to have around.
Consider it as a place for confirmation, if you’re a WOC: author Deepa Purushothaman speaks directly to your experiences and she offers sympathy and camaraderie, somewhat like a cathartic Happy Hour, but in book form. There’s advice here 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/or not of color. Supervisors, CEOs, and business owners who want to do better have a place to start here, with a dive into things you don’t know, things 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. Or if you work with WOC, learn and be better. There’s nothing like it.
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Here’s another book that women will want to read: “Women Talk Money” by Rebecca Walker. It’s a book — a series of essays — about our financial points-of-view, how money shapes our relationships as well as our entire lives, and how different women in different situations deal with money and the lack thereof.