Inclusion on Purpose By Ruchika Tulshyan Book Summary

Inclusion on Purpose, An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work by Ruchika Tulshyan.


Ruchika Tulshyan takes aim at the challenges women of color face at work. She wants you to admit, as she does about herself, that you’re racist. This racism includes anyone who participates in or stands by when another person suffers subtle or casual experiences of racism. Using heart-wrenching stories, Tulshyan describes these instances and the cumulative damage they cause. She focuses on what you must do to make work safe for women of color. Tulshyan writes for leaders and influencers – people of privilege – whom she urges to speak up, intervene and advocate for women of color.


  • Bias and prejudice against women of color persist worldwide.
  • Women of color face racism daily.
  • Every white person sees color.
  • Admit your racism, that you benefit from it and that you support it. 
  • Managers and leaders must embrace willful inclusion.
  • Conversations about race might cause discomfort; encourage them anyway. 
  • Remove fear of reprisal, so people can speak candidly.
  • Your silence cuts deeply when a colleague faces racism or discrimination.
  • When hiring, avoid cultural fit; seek cultural addition.
  • Coach women to demand fair wages and pay them fairly.
  • Give direct, specific and timely feedback about job performance – not about appearance or mannerisms.
Inclusion on Purpose book cover

Inclusion on Purpose Book Summary

Bias and prejudice against women of color persist worldwide.

If women enjoyed full engagement in their work, the US economy would swell by over $4 trillion annually, and the global economy by $12 trillion. But the struggles white women face differ dramatically from those women of color must endure. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts too often ignore intersectionality: Women of color face additional barriers due to gender- and race-based biases combined.

Women of color outnumber women of all other racial identities in the workforce and their share continues to grow. But inclusion doesn’t follow diversity. You must practice it on purpose, especially when it comes to women of color.

“Across all women of color at work, the intersection of gender and race is likely to profoundly impact their experience of being included and supported in the workplace.”

Systemic barriers and exclusion of women of color manifest in cultural white supremacy worldwide. Many people still associate wealth and achievement with whiteness; Blackness – depending on its degree away from whiteness – invites bias and discrimination. Overt racism may occur less now than in the past, but blaming racist incidents on “unconscious bias” lets perpetrators off the hook while ignoring the effects on victims.

Women of color face racism daily.

Racism – believing that abilities and character correlate with race – costs everyone, including about $1 trillion in lost GDP each year in the United States. Beginning in 2019, most new workers in the United States were non-white. Women of color still fill lower paying jobs out of proportion to their population numbers. Though a greater percentage of them aspire to better jobs and leadership than white women, women of color remain vastly underrepresented.

You cannot elicit a person’s best performance until you fully include him or her. Far too often, people perceive ambitious Black women as angry, expect those of Indian descent to excel at math, and anticipate passivity and submission from Asian women. Some claim that women of color fail because they fall prey to imposter syndrome. In fact, stereotyping, bias and discrimination hold them back.

Inclusion in STEM professions remains stagnate due to biases against women of color in math and computing. Women in tech face extraordinary harassment – sexual and otherwise – and prejudice trying to raise venture capital. 

Every white person sees color.

You can’t fight racism nor include on purpose if you refuse to see color. Acknowledge your privilege – just as a Black man or wealthy Asian woman should acknowledge their privilege compared with that of many Black women and women from other marginalized groups.

“If you have never had to ‘see’ color, then you’re most certainly in the racial majority.”

Develop purposeful inclusion skills by taking others’ perspectives and developing empathy toward them. Resist the urge to become defensive when people talk about race. Realize that two people in the same workplace experience it differently. Show compassion to build trust and to recruit and retain people of all backgrounds, the large majority of whom actively seek empathetic employers.

Admit your racism, that you benefit from it and that you support it. 

Do you challenge every instance of racism you encounter? Do you question your own advancement over that of your marginalized peers? Do you practice antiracism by refusing to remain on the sidelines when racists insult, oppress or marginalize others?

“Here’s the hardest sentence I’ve had to write in this book: I’m racist and benefit from upholding racist systems. ”

Overcome complacency and build empathy by seeking different ideas and perspectives. Read, share, discuss and reflect on books, articles and films by Black authors and women of color, and by expanding your social circles. At work, insist on consequences for those who practice even subtle forms of racism, sexism or harassment. Advocate for unbiased hiring systems even if they add time, cost and complexity to the process. Include representatives of every group when making workforce decisions or planning networking events. 

Managers and leaders must embrace willful inclusion.

Cis white men and women of privilege, especially leaders, must speak up when they witness acts of bias, racism, discrimination or exclusion. You naturally prefer others like you, thus creating a bias. Your brain deals with a daily onslaught of information that would paralyze you if not for your brain’s reliance on shortcuts – heuristics – that categorize things and people subconsciously. These mental shortcuts power stereotypes and hasty assumptions – unless you run intentional interference.

As a leader, recognize that the women of color with whom you work have probably dealt with hostility and discrimination for years or decades, including queries about their name, origins, accents, hair and other attributes. They may have suffered racist “compliments” for being articulate or clean. These microaggressions hurt people of color deeply. Subtle or casual racism and sexism remind a woman of color that she doesn’t belong, eroding her confidence and engagement, and damaging her career.

“The shortest distance between two people is a story.”

Listen actively to women of color. Turn off your phone, moderate your expressions, maintain eye contact and acknowledge their anxieties. Seek out what you have in common, from parenthood to hobbies. Show your support for DEI by allocating sufficient people and financial resources. Adopt an inclusion mind-set: Assume you and your organization can learn more about and improve inclusivity.

Conversations about race might cause discomfort; encourage them anyway. 

Don’t assume you know anything about anyone due to their race, religion, nationality or anything else. Stay open and curious. Ask questions and request feedback to learn about biases you may exhibit subconsciously, and to gauge your progress in making people feel included. Act on what you hear. Gather anonymous workforce data to see what women, women of color and other minority groups say about their experiences, their promotion rates, their engagement and performance.

“Women of color aren’t the problem. Workplaces that expect them to hide parts of themselves to fit in are. ”

Institute and communicate a brief but specific code of conduct concerning DEI. Decide and articulate the consequences for breaches of your code, especially when they run into other priorities. For example, will you fire a top performer for sexual harassment? Will you sacrifice diversity of applicants for speed in hiring? Your answers communicate your commitment to DEI.

Remove fear of reprisal, so people can speak candidly.

Guarantee psychological safety. Women of color mostly experience psychological danger and the greatest risk of retaliation for speaking up. No safety means no candor. Provide anonymous means for reporting bias. Never err on the side of white comfort over racial candor. Consider how others live and work and the extra burdens they face. Take action when you see bias, especially when you see a person of color slandered, sanctioned or otherwise penalized for speaking up. 

“Safe environments benefit both employees and the organization’s success as a whole.”

Changing your mind-set and your firm’s culture takes time and effort. You’ll make mistakes, as will women of color – learn from them and don’t repeat them. If you unintentionally say something hurtful or exhibit bias, embrace the feedback, express gratitude for it, apologize and work to improve.

Create conditions that allow people of color to bring their whole selves to work. Don’t expect them to use abbreviations of non-western names or to feel they can’t wear a headscarf, for example. Ask whether you would label a vocal white man as “angry” or “aggressive” before you attach that label to a Black woman. Ask whether you would praise a white woman who gave a good presentation as “articulate.”

Give marginalized employees a voice through the formation of well-funded and respected employee resource groups. Consult with those groups in product design to avoid mistakes in cultural appropriation, and before making workforce decisions that affect their constituencies.

Your silence cuts deeply when a colleague faces racism or discrimination.

Consider how your privilege and influence can help someone with a weaker voice. When a famous club in Los Angeles refused to permit jazz great Ella Fitzgerald to sing, for example, Marilyn Monroe told the owner that if he let Fitzgerald sing, she would sit at the front table every night. The club owner hired Fitzgerald, launching her career. Monroe used her influence, then backed off, giving Fitzgerald the spotlight.

“If you’re a manager who leads many meetings, there’s ample opportunity for you to be inclusive on purpose. ”

Recognize women of color for their contributions and give them credit for their ideas. Don’t relegate note-taking, cleaning the break room or other administrative tasks to women exclusively – either by design or accident. Sponsor a woman of color. Give women of color the connections, opportunities and assignments that raise their profiles, increase their pay and improve their career prospects.

In meetings, make sure no one dominates or interrupts and that everyone gets an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. Calling people out for violating these rules nurtures inclusive meetings.

Women, especially women of color, often share ideas no one endorses until a white man rephrases them as his own. Watch out for this behavior and reject it. Give credit where it’s due.

When hiring, avoid cultural fit; seek cultural addition.

Don’t seek a workforce of people who look and think the same. Find individuals of diverse backgrounds, perspectives and ideas. Take responsibility as a leader or hiring manager. Don’t make HR solely responsible for diversity.

“Hiring for cultural fit is among the most widespread and exclusionary hiring practices today.”

If you rely on referrals from white people, you will probably get white candidates. Examine your sourcing channels to see where you post job ads and what those ads say that might encourage or discourage diverse applicants. Make sure you need the qualifications you include in ads. Design structured interviews led by diverse interviewers.

Coach women to demand fair wages and pay them fairly.

Women, and especially those of color, still earn far less, on average, than men doing the same work. Whiteness still carries greater influence than skills and intelligence in determining lifelong income in America. Don’t ask for salary history or emphasize where a person earned their degree when hiring and promoting; that reinforces homogeneity, inequity and racism.

“To be inclusive on purpose, you have to lead pay conversations without negotiations.”

As an employee, share your compensation openly and ask others about theirs. When you know about who gets paid what, you can gauge the equity of your pay. Compared to men, women of color still stand a heightened risk of losing a job offer or a job by negotiating their salary. Coach women to ask for fair wages, but as a leader, don’t make them ask. Pay them fairly. Analyze your pay data by gender, race and intersections of each. Where you discover inequities, correct them.

Give direct, specific and timely feedback about job performance – not about appearance or mannerisms. 

When offering constructive criticism, start with something positive. If someone speaks negatively about a woman of color, ask for specifics. For example, calling a Black woman aggressive reeks of stereotyping. Insist on examples.

“Centuries of oppression persist throughout our societies, and that has reinforced the exclusion faced by women of color in the modern workforce.”

In annual performance reviews, focus on objective goals: the things you want from the person in the job, achievement of targets and deliverables, and desired actions and behaviors. If you encounter defensiveness in an employee while giving constructive feedback, don’t give up. Continue to offer supportive guidance.

About the Author

Ruchika Tulshyan

Ruchika Tulshyan founded and leads Candour, a DEI consulting firm. Previously a business journalist, Tulshyan co-authored the viral 2021 Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.”

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