In recognition of Pride Month, we spoke to Sheetal Deo, Founder of The Diversity Collective and Principal of Shakti Legal about the current state of LGBQTI+ in the legal industry, her advice on inclusive practices as well as what Pride means to her.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what lead you to establish The Diversity Collective?
I’m a first-generation Canadian. My parents are 5th or 6th generation Fijians and we’re descendants of the Girmitiyas, or indentured labourers who left India in the middle to late 19th century to serve as laborers in the British colonies. I generally dislike labels (labels are for food, not people), but for the sake of societal constructs, I am an able-bodied cis-gendered queer woman of colour.
Before beginning my legal career, I undertook a Bachelor of Arts degree with a focus on philosophy and political science (race and gender studies, identity politics, etc.). While I took most of these courses, ‘for fun,’ they have formed the basis of my passion for equity and inclusion and underpin much of what I do, including how I do it.
Long story short, I pursued a career in law because I wanted money, power and privilege. I soon realised that what I had been driven by wasn’t aligned to my values.
With that sobering realisation came another, more optimistic revelation – the money, power and privilege also provided me an opportunity, a platform, to leverage what was available to me, to become an advocate and help bridge the access to justice gap on a larger scale. So, I created my own social enterprise law firm, built on a low-bono model, with opportunities for eligible clients to ‘pay what they can,’ for legal services.
At the same time, I saw another gap in the diversity and inclusion space between people who wanted to do the right thing, but didn’t know how and people who were tired from the emotional labour of educating others at their own expense. I started The Diversity Collective as a way to bridge that education gap and bring an intersectional lens (and framework) to diversity and inclusion discussions within my networks.
How do you see the current state of LGBTQI+ inclusion in the legal profession?
I think organisations like the LGBTI Legal Service and Pride in Law have been incredible in fostering the inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people in the legal profession. Where Pride in Law has created a space for members of the legal community who identify as LGBTIQA+, the LGBTI legal service has created space for LGBTIQA+ identifying community members to seek (and receive) legal assistance.
Both have advanced the inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people through legislative and policy changes. I’m honoured to be members of both organisations and continue to work and contribute to both in a volunteer capacity.
What do you think is the impact of inclusion, from the individual and/or the businesses perspective?
We hear about the business case of diversity all the time, but without inclusion, the business case fails. We cannot learn (and benefit) from the diversity of thought, experience, and backgrounds of people unless we create a space that is safe and inclusive for people to share those diverse thoughts, views and experiences. The ‘add diversity and stir,’ approach doesn’t work. Businesses and organisations that adopt that approach perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy that “diversity doesn’t work,” in their organsiations. When in truth, the issue is that the organisation is not ready, receptive or inclusive enough.
Insofar as the tangible benefits of inclusion, the Diversity Council of Australia commissioned a study* mapping the state of inclusion in the Australian workforce, which reported that workers in inclusive teams are:
- 11 times more lightly to be highly effective than those in non-inclusive teams
- 10 times more likely to be very satisfied [at work]
- 10 times more likely to be innovative
- 6 times more likely to provide excellent customer service
- 4 times more likely to work extra hard
- 5 times less likely to experience discrimination and/or harassment at work
- 4 times less likely to leave their job in the next 12 months
- 4 times less likely to feel work has a negative or very negative impact on their mental health
*Report: 2021-200 Inclusion@Work Index, Diversity Council of Australia
Do you have any practical advice for firms on LGBTQI+ inclusive practices?
It can be tough as a sole practitioner or small practice to keep up with the discourse in the diversity and inclusion space, let alone implement ‘best,’ or better practices. Even when we know it’s the right thing to do, we might not know how to do it. Or, we have limited resources and capacity to do it.
There are a number of small actions you can take to be more inclusive including:
- Use inclusive language: For example, ‘Dear colleagues’ rather than ‘sir/madam’ or use ‘everyone or ‘team’ rather than ‘ladies and gentlemen’. Pride in Law, a National non-political LGBTIQ+ Law Association has created a list of useful resources that you can access here
- Diversify your networks by looking outside your ‘usual’ networks and amplifying underrepresented voices, when sourcing presenters or speakers for events, or referring work.
- Visibility matters. Use visual representations to demonstrate your support for diversity and your allyship.
What does Pride mean to you?
Pride for me has become an opportunity to learn more about the intersecting identities within the rainbow community and how I can be a better ally to those with experiences and identities different to my own. After all, the rights I enjoy today are due to the sacrifices by those who came before me. They had different experiences and identities too, but they had the magnanimity to make things better for more than just themselves. That’s true allyship. That’s Pride. Because unless it’s equitable for all, it’s not equitable at all.
For more information about The Diversity Collective please visit https://thediversitycollective.org/