We, at The SAARI Collective, wish to acknowledge and celebrate International Women’s Day today and all week. We invite you to join us in recognising and celebrating the efforts, achievements and immense contributions of South Asian women across Australia.
Join us as we profile some resilient and inspiring South Asian women over the coming days. Today, we’re celebrating Sheetal Deo and Sakshi Thakur who, through their resolute efforts and perseverance, have made the community more inclusive and stronger.
Profile - Sheetal Deo
“Don’t try to be a leader that people admire; listen to the community you want to serve and work with them.”
Sheetal Deo is a lawyer by qualification and an advocate by choice. A powerful believer in using positions of power and privilege to support others, she is passionate about inclusive practices, access to justice and education. Sheetal occupies several roles across the legal, not-for-profit and advocacy sectors and stimulates conversations around social impact and change, leading the way to a more inclusive tomorrow.
Sheetal recently worked at the Queensland Law Society (QLS) as a Relationship Manager. In addition, she established a student to lawyer transition outreach program, the first democratically elected ‘QLS Future Leaders Committee’ and the first Diverse Abilities Network within a period of two years. When Sheetal isn’t advocating on behalf of her lawyer peers, she’s working alongside them through her private practice, Shakti Legal Solutions. Driven by Sheetal’s contribution to bridging the justice gap, Shakti facilitates access to justice for marginalised communities, the ‘missing middle’ (people who aren’t eligible for free services, nor in a position to pay traditional lawyer fees) and empowers individuals, organisations and communities to directly support its efforts by offering fixed fees and sliding scale payment options for eligible clients and opportunities for firms and clients to ‘pay it forward’ in fees or services.
In addition to these roles, Sheetal volunteers her time as the Co-Founder and President of Ethnic+, a not-for-profit association that supports diversity within the rainbow community and fosters connection and compassion with allies. She is also a recent appointment to the Management Committee of the LGBTI Legal Service and is currently assisting the Service in setting up their future strategic plans by using her lived experiences and connections within the LGBTIQA+ community.
Inspired by her mum’s strength, resilience, grace and compassion, Sheetal believes a good leader is someone who uses their platform to elevate and support others.
“To the aspiring and emerging leaders, I would say: pay attention to who isn’t in the room and ask why, and what can you, as a leader, do about it?,” says Sheetal.
“When I think of the people I admire, there are common threads: they are humble, relatable and the first thing they did was earn my trust.”
Sheetal believes for South Asian girls to step into leadership, it is essential to acknowledge the social conditioning present in society.
“Girls, particularly South Asian girls are raised to play nice and safe while boys are raised to play rough and tough,” she says.
She encourages future leaders within the South Asian community to acknowledge, deconstruct and overcome this idea.
“We may have had to play nice and safe once upon a time, but that doesn’t mean that’s all we are — or can be.”
This International Women’s Day, Sheetal chooses to challenge labels.
She believes people are complex and have intersecting identities.
“Labels are for food, not people.”
Profile - Sakshi Thakur
“Back yourself and your intuition.”
Sakshi Thakur is the CEO and founder of Humanism Global, a social enterprise that provides textiles education and dignified employment to women living in low-income communities in India. Her love for social entrepreneurship started young as she has advocated for a few mental health initiatives, organised events to raise awareness on social issues such as youth homelessness and spread kindness through curating ‘random acts of kindness’ campaigns within her community.
She has a background in Entrepreneurship, Commerce and Biomedical Science, and for a couple of years worked in Finance at EY before she founded Humanism Global. She has also previously chaired her local youth council group and was the recipient of the 2018 Sir John Monash Award for Outstanding Leadership for her consistent work in mental health and equity initiatives.
Inspired by Leila Janah’s leadership style, Sakshi believes Leila consistently set an example through her actions to life's challenges with courage, grace, ambition, hard work, integrity, self-love and humility.
Sakshi thinks Leila’s ability to authentically connect and communicate complex social issues was a testament towards the level of empathy she had as a leader.
“She (Leila) not only educated and inspired many, but catalysed meaningful impact. I am living proof of that impact, as I have learnt so much about life and social entrepreneurship through her writing, speeches and following her business, and that inspired me to create my social enterprise,” says Sakshi.
She believes being a great leader is leading by example, particularly when no one is watching or giving a pat on the back.
“I try to bring grace, empathy and integrity towards everything I put my energy to - I say ‘I try’ because these are still things I’m working on. Forever a WIP leader over here,” says Sakshi.
This International Women’s Day, she chooses to challenge gender and intersectional inequities and chooses to believe that we, as a community, can build the opportunities and empathy to create a world that leaves no one behind.
She believes there are many systemic issues concerning gender inequities and suggests that a small and impactful first step towards a better tomorrow is creating more safe spaces for women to feel included and have their voices valued.
Sakshi also chooses to challenge the conditioning of ‘ideal’ beauty standards and chooses to believe that every human is beautiful for the uniqueness they bring to the world.
She encourages South Asian women to trust themselves and start taking steps towards a direction that feels true to them, even if it may not tick society’s boxes of success.
“Even though I’ve had leadership ‘titles’ in the past, I feel like I really ‘stepped into leadership’ when I began trusting myself,” says Sakshi
“Backing yourself to do that thing that feels right but is ‘going against the grain’ is extremely challenging and isolating at times, but I promise you it’s worth it. You’ll love yourself and life more for it.”
Sakshi continues to pursue work in mental health, social entrepreneurship and gender, health and socio-economic equity, as her life's mission is to create an equitable world that leaves no human behind.
Pranjali Sehgal is a writer, public servant and member of SAARI's Editorial Team.