Ruchika Tulshyan on Inclusion in the Work Place and Finding Balance
August 4, 2023
Ruchika Tulshyan is the best-selling author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work (MIT Press). The book was described as “transformative” by Dr. Brené Brown.Ruchika is also the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy practice.

You are an inclusion strategist. What does that mean?

The TL;DR version of this is that I advise, speak and write on how organizations can harness the power of diverse teams, remove barriers to equity, and create a culture of belonging for all. The longer version is that after spending over a decade in corporate America (and global organizations in the UK, Singapore and India), I felt strongly that there was an opportunity to create cultures where people from excluded communities–women, people of color etc. would be able to lead and thrive. Left to chance, it doesn’t happen, it takes intention, awareness and practice. So I see myself as someone trying to bridge the gap between good intentions and actual impact.

In your book, Inclusion on Purpose, you bring an intersectional focus to diversity and inclusion practice. What are the top take away points?

Here are key takeaways:

1. Inclusion takes intention. I doesn’t just happen naturally. We’re hardwired to be drawn toward people like us, so we need to constantly disrupt our natural approach. We need to develop an acute awareness of who is represented, who’s getting hired, promoted, or thought of as leaders—and who is not.

2. Women of color must be centered in all inclusion efforts. Women of color are on track to become the largest majority of women in the U.S. by 2060. Non-white women are already a majority in a global context. Without centering our voices, expertise, and leadership on corporate diversity, we can’t make meaningful progress toward a more inclusive and innovative workplace and society.

3. Focus on culture add, not culture fit. Too many workplaces are focused on hiring for culture fit. This framing is exclusionary and biased.. If your organization is made up of white men, then you’re consciously or unconsciously going to pattern match for a “culture fit.” Instead, look for culture add. Be intentional and honest about the perspectives and backgrounds that are missing. Name them. Spell it out. Having a clear understanding of who is missing helps leaders articulate to recruiters that they require a racially and gender-diverse slate of candidates. When interviewing people, seek culture add, not culture fit.

So, why are, to quote you, “people so bad at DEI”?”

This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s because people have good intentions and over-index on them. They assume that because they believe in equality and fairness in theory, they’re automatically going to be equal and fair in every interaction. Instead, what drives change is owning up to the fact that we’re “bad at DEI” and need to be intentionally practicing––in every moment––actions to be more inclusive. It’s a very active way of being and living vs. passively believing it in theory.

How do you balance your busy life as a speaker, author and consultant. Do you have any specific tools or techniques that you use?

Honestly, this is an area of constant struggle and adjustment. I’ve enlisted experts to help in various ways: I work with a business coach for strategy and planning, an executive assistant who keeps my life on track, I rent my wardrobe from Armoire, and have a team that I trust deeply when working with my advisory clients. Despite that, life is full and hectic.

I learned a lot from Greg McKeown’s theory on “Essentialism.” Get really clear on what’s essential to you to live a fulfilled life…then be mercenary about cutting out even great opportunities, focusing only on what’s essential to you.

Do you have tips for networking or mentorship that you’d like to share with our audience of female executives?

In recent years, I’ve moved from the idea of networking to community-building. Networks focus on a specific outcome or deliverable, communities seek to nourish and take care of each other. This re-framing really helped me invest in building community and ensuring that the relationships were deep, not transactional.

What this means is that we start to see women we connect with as beyond their jobs and titles. We seek to meaningfully interact with them in ways that may not be strategic at that moment, but can really nourish us personally and even professionally over time. It could be inviting an executive for a meal with their family vs. having a “power business lunch.” Or going for a walk in a park rather than in a conference room. Get to know people as humans first.

And I always like to ask, “how can I be helpful to you?” Years ago, an executive woman asked me this––she meant in relation to supporting me professionally by hosting a book event at her company or referring me for business. I told her honestly that at that moment, I needed a friend. And not only did she over-deliver on that (we’re close friends now!) but she was kind enough to support me professionally in many, many ways too.

I’ve built connections on social media (first Twitter, now LinkedIn and Instagram) by following people I want to learn from – they don’t have to be in your field or even in the same country! When you engage with a number of people thoughtfully and consistently over time, it can build a wonderful online community. I’ve benefited deeply from mine!

Who are women you admire right now?

I really love women who are challenging traditional notions of success and what it means to be a woman. Michelle Yeoh’s Oscars speech gave my life. I’m loving Serena Williams’ post-tennis life. I’ll read anything Tressie McMillan Cottom writes. Indian filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, fashion designer Masaba Gupta and veteran actress Neena Gupta are all incredible. Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender nonconforming artist who always inspires me. Of course, Oprah and Michelle Obama are the OG power women.

I’m delighted to personally be friends with Seattle women like Ambika Singh, Ijeoma Oluo and La’Kita Williams, all who are incredibly generous and brilliant.

What is one trend you see really hitting in 2023?

A continued focus on redefining what success means. More women I know are defining success by seeking joy, personal peace, opportunities for leisure and purpose over a narrow definition of financial gains that requires no or little time for anything else than work and too often, burnout.

I hope it’s more than a trend but a huge shift in all our lives. I think this is the year for it to hit (though not a new concept) as we’re seeing organizations and parts of society rushing back to a pre-pandemic “norm” without accounting for how much we’ve all collectively learned and grown over the past few years. There’s no “norm” to return to!

A continued focus on redefining what success means. More women I know are defining success by seeking joy, personal peace, opportunities for leisure and purpose over a narrow definition of financial gains that requires no or little time for anything else than work and too often, burnout.


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