International Women’s Day: Notable South Asian Women of Substance Who Broke the Proverbial Glass Ceiling
This International Women’s Day, here’s a look at some South Asian women who made news over the past year and among other things, broke the proverbial glass ceiling in various fields — politics, business, arts and entertainment.
Nikki Haley: Former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, entered the GOP race last month, declaring that the party needed a “new generation of leadership.”The 51-year-old and former President Donald Trump are the only major Republican candidates to have launched their campaigns, a field that could eventually include former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, among others. Indian American entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. 37, a former biotech executive, has also thrown his hat in the ring. Haley has a tough road ahead to clinch the GOP presidential nomination, and it is widely believed that she is running more to potentially become the vice presidential nominee or be picked up by whoever wins the presidency as a cabinet member.
Aruna Miller (née Katragadda): The 57-year-old Indian American made history last November by becoming Maryland’s first woman of color and first Indian American Lieutenant Governor. The Hyderabad-born Miller, a former Maryland House delegate, is an engineer by training. She immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old. She learned English while in the public school system, graduated high school, and attended college at what is now called Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: The Congresswoman from Washington state became the first immigrant named ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration. She succeeded Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to serve on the Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement. It will be chaired by Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and has jurisdiction over immigration law and policy, naturalization, border security, refugee admissions, non-border immigration enforcement, and other various issues.
Kshama Sawant: Last month, Seattle achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first city in the United States to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on caste after Kshama Sawant, a socialist and the only Indian American in the council, introduced a “first-in-the-nation” legislation. In a press conference announcing the legislation on Jan. 24, she said it does not single out one community, but it accounts for how caste discrimination crosses national and religious boundaries. “The fight against caste discrimination is deeply connected to the fight against all forms of oppression.” In January, Sawant announced that she won’t be seeking reelection to a fourth term. Instead, after serving on the council for a decade, the lawmaker will focus on helping launch a new national labor movement called Workers Strike Back. The national campaign aims “to win better lives and conditions for workers,” according to an op-ed she wrote for The Stranger.
Harmeet Dhillon: Longtime conservative activist and Trump loyalist Harmeet Dhillon, whose firm represents Trump, failed to garner the required votes to be elected chair of the Republican National Committee. Ronna McDaniel l, whom Donald Trump tapped as RNC chair in 2016, won the secret ballot vote 111 to 51. The longtime conservative activist, currently a national committeewoman of the RNC for California, waged a contentious campaign against the incumbent, calling for a change in the party’s leadership. The Sikh American, who had shrill backing from Fox News, also alleged that she faced bigoted attacks from her fellow party leaders because of her Sikh faith. Her campaign fell short despite a last-minute push by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Jasmeet Kaur Bains: The family physician from Bakersfield, California, made history by becoming the first South Asian American woman to be elected to the State Assembly. She is a medical director at Bakersfield Recovery Services, a non-profit that treats adults suffering from addiction.
Megan Srinivas: An infectious disease physician who works at Broadlawns Medical Center became the youngest woman of color ever elected to the Iowa legislature. A vocal public health voice in Iowa during the coronavirus pandemic and a critic of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ COVID-19 policies, Srinivas was prompted to run to work on issues she sees her patients experience that she can’t fix as a doctor.
Nabeela Syed: The youngest Democrat in the Illinois state House broke barriers when voters overwhelmingly voted to send her to Springfield. At just 23 years old, Syed, the daughter of Indian immigrants, became the first Muslim woman to win a General Assembly seat and did so by flipping a district held by two-term GOP state Rep. Chris Bos.
Usha Reddi: The former commissioner and former mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, began her tenure as state Senator earlier this year. Reddi, 57, who represents District 22, replaced longtime Manhattan Senator Tom Hawk who recently announced his retirement on Jan. 11. She will fill in for the remainder of Hawk’s term, which was set to end after the 2024 election.
Shasti Conrad: The Washington State Democrats elected Conrad as the new chair of the Washington State Democrats at its Reorganization Meeting and Officer Elections, making her the first woman of color and youngest person to be elected chair of the Washington State Democrats as well as the first South Asian and first Indian American woman to serve as a State Democratic Party Chair in the country.
Darshana Patel: A longtime trustee of the Poway Unified School District in California, announced her run for the 76th Assembly District in 2024. The Democrat is seeking the North County seat that will be vacated after 2024 by Brian Maienschein, who is termed out. Her campaign received a boost with an early endorsement from Congressman Ro Khanna, according to her website.
Tejal Mehta: An associate justice in the Ayer District Court, she was sworn in as the first justice of the Ayer District Court in Massachusetts last month. She served as an associate justice in the Ayer District Court, after being appointed to the court in February 2018 by then-Gov. Charlie Baker.
Apsara Iyer: The 29-year-old was elected the 137th president of the Harvard Law Review, becoming the first Indian American woman to head the prestigious publication in its 136-year history. It is considered the highest achievement for a Harvard Law School student. Becoming Harvard Law Review’s first Black president marked the beginning of the meteoric rise of 28-year-old Barack Obama.
Priti Krishtel: The health justice lawyer from California has been named to the O’Neill-Lancet Commission on Racism, Structural Discrimination, and Global Health, to promote anti-racist strategies and actions that will reduce barriers to health and well-being. She has spent 20 years exposing structural inequities affecting access to medicines and vaccines across the Global South and in the United States.
Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary: The Chandigarh-born lawyer became the first immigrant of Indian origin to be named to the Immigrant Rights Commission for the city and county of San Francisco. The Immigrant Rights Commission guides the mayor and board of supervisors on issues and policies that impact immigrants who live or work in San Francisco.
Vijaya Gadde: Twitter’s former chief legal officer admitted that the social media platform should have immediately reinstated the New York Post’s account after the company reversed its decision to block the Hunter Biden story. The Indian American was among three former Twitter executives who testified last month in front of a GOP-led House Oversight Committee about the company’s role in limiting the distribution of a story about President Biden’s son’s laptop in 2020. Gadde was joined by James Baker, former deputy general counsel; and Yoel Roth, former global head of trust and safety.
Mala Gaonkar: The businesswoman and co-portfolio manager created history by overseeing the biggest-ever launch of a hedge fund headed by a woman. Gaonkar, founder of the investment firm SurgoCap Partners began trading on Jan. 3, and “became a huge hit with $1.8 billion trading under management,” Bloomberg reported.
Sushmita Shukla: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York appointed Shukla as the first vice president and chief operating officer. In her new role as the New York Fed’s second-ranking officer, she“will establish, communicate, and execute the organization’s strategic direction. She will also serve as an alternate voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee.
Dr. Sandhya K. Balaram: A leading adult cardiac surgeon in New York City, has been named chief of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. She was also recruited to Weill Cornell Medicine as an associate professor of clinical cardiothoracic surgery.
Asma Naeem: The Pakistani American was named director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, becoming the first person of color to lead the museum in its 109-year-long history. She replaced Christopher Bedford, who last year departed for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Sabaa Tahir: The Pakistani American received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her book “All My Rage. It follows a working-class Pakistani American family from Lahore to Juniper, California, where they run a motel
Amna Nawaz: The Pakistani American journalist was named co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, along with Geoff Bennett. Nawaz was most recently the NewsHour chief correspondent. The nightly newscast, co-anchored by Nawaz and Bennett, launched on Jan. 2.
Mindy Kaling: The Indian American actor, writer, director and producer received the Norman Lear Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America (PGA). The award recognizes “a producer or producing team for their extraordinary body of work in television. The 43-year-old has also been making heads turn with her svelte look. The mother of two has been on a weight loss journey for the past few months and has been looking trimmer and fitter. She has lost more than 40 pounds after learning to enjoy exercising and eat smaller portions.