Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Milan Gandhi?
I am one part policy analyst and adviser working in multidisciplinary teams with leading Australian scientists, public servants and military personnel, one part innovation manager assisting to drive digital transformation for our business and our stakeholders, and one part in-house legal adviser. The thing I love most about my work at DMTC (other than the people) is the diversity of challenges I get to work on and their public importance. Right from the beginning of my career (initially as a lawyer in private practice), I was keen to ‘break the mould’ and I have benefited from career mentors, firstly at McCullough Robertson and now at DMTC Ltd, who nourished that instinct even if it did not align with traditional examples of what someone ‘should’ do with a law degree. I am eternally grateful to those people.
How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a huge part of what I do at DMTC. That is partly because I am on DMTC’s diversity and inclusion committee, led adeptly by my colleague Anthea Silom, and partly because I benefit from our genuinely inclusive workplace. Importantly, we recognise that there is room for improvement. Notwithstanding that we are a small organisation, we have been on a transformative journey over the last 18 months to improve D&I within DMTC and to influence similar outcomes across the broader defence innovation ecosystem.
Our work has been underpinned by expert advice from Diversity Partners, one of Australia’s leading consulting firms guiding organisations to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Some of the highlights include that we received approval from Reconciliation Australia to publicly release our Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan in March 2021, made meaningful updates to organisational policies relating to leave and diversity and inclusion, conducted a survey to better understand the diversity of our organisation, and established a clear diversity and inclusion strategy with associated objectives, actions, metrics, and strong governance. Our goal throughout the process has been to prioritise meaningful change over lip service.
DMTC embraces the notion of diversity of thought – it is evident in the focus on collaboration with the defence sector but also in the cross-functional teams that drive the day-to-day business.
Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?
I know that my parents and their generation of East African South Asians in the United Kingdom suffered fairly direct and disturbing instances of racism (compounded by sexism in my Mum’s case), but my experiences as an early career professional in Australia have (luckily) been much more positive. I suspect that is for a number of reasons including the changes in attitudes that my parents’ generation were instrumental in bringing about and because, as someone who grew up in Australia, I have a distinctly Australian accent. It is, of course, unfortunate that this latter factor would play a role (but I suspect it does).
Growing up in Brisbane, I suffered from a level of insecurity and even shame regarding my ‘differences’ (race and cultural differences being two factors) – I now deeply regret that as it pushed me away from learning my mother tongue, Gujarati, and later led to me feeling ‘left out’ when I started to realise the extraordinary value of my rich cultural heritage. I now admire my childhood friends who leaned into the many opportunities our parents and the Gujarati Association of Queensland provided for us to engage with our culture. As I got a bit older, I also felt genuinely confused about my identity – Australians assumed I was not truly Australian because of my appearance, and, during my trips to India (including most recently on a study tour in 2017), Indians assumed I was not truly Indian because of my accent. Strangely enough, I spoke to an Indian cricketing legend (my Dad’s hero in fact) about this issue when I met him in person as part of a short-term exchange to OP Jindal University in India. With a twinkle in his eye, he suggested I should embrace the fact that I am ‘obviously’ an Australian. He was wrong – I am Australian and Indian and (a tiny bit) British and occupy a unique and distinct cultural identity as a result. I am not just one thing or the other and I am more ‘me’ and the culmination of my experiences and choices than I am anything else (Indian, Australian, British, or otherwise). I now embrace that and consider it an advantage!
ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH
Your diverse background is only one part of who you are and it is an asset – learn that sooner in life than I did and embrace it, but don’t let it define you either.
Want to follow and support ?
You can learn more about DMTC and our work in defence, national security, and related sectors at https://www.linkedin.com/company/dmtc-ltd.
The Legal Forecast
If you are interested in doing law differently, and innovation in the legal sector, please check out https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-legal-forecast (where I am a director).
If you are interested in TLF Creative, an inclusive and creative space for legal professionals, please check out www.thelegalforecast.com/tlf-creative.
Australasian Cyber Law Institute
If you are interested in technology policy and regulation, please check out the Australasian Cyber Law Institute (where I chair the subcommittee on ‘Democracy and Public Knowledge’): https://www.acli.org.au/.
Reach out to me If you would like to chat, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn via https://www.linkedin.com/in/gandhimilan/. Mention when you connect that you read this article so I know to accept your request.
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