Menaka's Story

Breaking down barriers
A portrait shot of Menaka
Menaka Iyengar Cooke is a highly qualified professional woman with great personal drive, a force that has kept her going through periods of adversity.

“I had to break through barriers; I had to have courage and strength to be bigger than myself sometimes to make my voice heard because I knew I would just be the dregs at the bottom of the fish-tank and it was not easy.”

Now in the ‘third age’ of her life, she works to give back and play a role as a social activist with the wisdom and compassion she has gained over many years.
A portrait of a young Menaka

Menaka moved from India to Australia in January 1973 but, on arriving in her adopted country, found that her academic qualifications (B.A. Hons) were not recognised.

At the age of 28, Menaka had to leave her marriage, with her young daughter. With ten dollars and two suitcases, she started her search for accommodation and a job.

Already traumatised, she faced the additional stress of a lack of social services and support, and was told to look after herself. From this low point, she eventually found a clerical job but though she worked hard couldn’t get a promotion.

At work, she was exposed to the ‘triple whammy’ of racism, ageism and sexism. She discovered she needed a local qualification to succeed so she decided to study again at University which led her to study at night and work full time. 


She recalls that she was often put down, mocked and questioned for her decision to attend university as a mature woman. She persevered and completed two Masters degrees – one in Commerce and the other in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Menaka went on to succeed in a number of high level Human Resources and Change Management roles with large Australian companies retiring as HR Director of a multi-national.

A portrait of Menaka today
Her personal experiences of dealing with racism, sexism and age discrimination have motivated her to strive to improve the lives of women. Her memoirs ‘Monsoon Woman’ under the pseudonym of Laxmi Lall were published by Balboa Press in 2019.

Menaka serves on various boards including the Women’s Electoral Lobby, Indian Crisis & Support Agency, Older Women’s Network NSW, while continuing her work as a Psychotherapist, Change Management Consultant and Coach

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