Linda Cho, AALA Queensland Branch Committee Member
Dzenita Ballic, Victor Asoyo, Kristen Hodge, Sheetal Deo and Ashleigh DoRozario spoke candidly at the Banco Court about their personal journeys of entering the legal profession and how they managed to continue working in the profession, despite encountering significant challenges.
They bravely shared their vision for the future of the legal profession. Each story shared was about overcoming adversity and a collective hope for our profession to acknowledge and celebrate diversity and inclusion.
We were told we can start by ‘calling people in’ so we can better understand our differences, and that instead of just ticking boxes, we should truly appreciate the different lived experiences of each individual, and encourage seeing the strength that comes from these diverse experiences.
Court of Appeal President Walter Sofronoff led the forum by sharing with the audience his Russian heritage, his upbringing in Hong Kong where his family were refugees and later his life in Australia.
Panellists pictured (from left): Victor Asoyo, Kristen Hodge, President Sofronoff (moderator), Sheetal Deo and Ashleigh DoRozario. Photo: Jonas Chng.
Dzenita gave us a glimpse into what it was like to come to Australia as a refugee from a war-torn country, as a teenager who knew no English, and how that led her to become a senior Crown Prosecutor at the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions). Ashleigh shared how she navigated continuing to work in the legal profession whilst being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition causing her to become legally blind.
Kristen, a Wiradjuri woman, shared her experiences of working tirelessly for First Nations people through native title and cultural heritage law, and fighting back systematic prejudices. Sheetal, a Canadian-born migrant woman within the LGBTIQA+ community, spoke passionately about actively working in the inclusion space.
Finally, Victor reflected on how he came to Australia as the first in his family to attend university, how he worked in property law and banking, and became a partner of his own firm.
When answering questions, it became clear that, as lawyers who have different lived experiences to those who traditionally have made up the majority of the profession, we sometimes don’t realise the lengths we go to so we can ‘fit in’ to the stereotypical mould.
This night left the audience reflecting on the past, provided insight into the present and gave us hope for the future. Many people who may have felt as though they were not ‘the majority’ within our profession, felt heard and understood.
Not only did the storytelling by the panellists allow the audience to briefly experience being ‘in their shoes’, it reinforced to the diverse members of our profession that we belong in this community.
President Shearer, in her welcoming address, said: “The diverse groups among us do not belong in the margins, but in the centre.” Her encouraging speech reinforced that there is change happening within our profession. This change may not be drastic, but I believe the interest in the event was a true reflection of the profession’s longing for a more diverse and inclusive profession.
It is hoped that this will not be last time we speak about these central issues and that this event continues to spark conversations among peers about the importance of diversity within our legal profession.
The event was organised as a first-time collaboration between the Asian Australian Lawyers Association, Indigenous Lawyers Association, Women’s Lawyers Association Queensland, Pasifika Lawyers Association of Queensland, African Lawyers Network, Pride in Law and the QLS Diverse Abilities Network.
We thank our sponsors, Robertson O’Gorman, the Bar Association of Queensland, Hemmant’s List and Queensland Law Society for assisting in bringing this event together.