Girl bosses who brunch is a series which seeks to celebrate the achievements of incredible Pacific women. All of my chats with the various girl bosses take place in a café and we discuss anything and everything ranging from their journey to success to how many people they pashed on the weekend (jokes, kind of). It is my hope that in sharing stories about successful women, this will inspire others to do better and be better.
Piutau. It’s a familiar name that has graced our TV screens several times. Ema Piutau is the sister of rugby legends Charles and Siale. Although Ema will most probably deny her natural athleticism (she goes hard at Crossfit), her path to success was different to her brothers. This young lady holds a Law degree from the University of Auckland and is currently working as a lawyer for the Public Defence Service in Manukau.
Ema, a New Zealand born Tongan, was raised in Mangere. She attended Mangere College and while she was in High School, she admits to being a rebellious teen with no intention of pursuing further education. Unsure of her immediate future after high school, Ema decided to attend Best Pacific Training. At Best Pacific Training, she studied Business Administration and later landed a job with Auckland Probation Service in an administration role. She worked for Probations for 10 years and during this time she decided to study social work. “Even though I wasn’t sure about where I was heading, I knew that I enjoyed working with people and wanted to work in a job which gave me an opportunity to help others – that’s really important to me”.
For anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Ema, one of her many admirable features is her genuine kindness towards everyone. Mid-way through Ema’s studies towards becoming a social worker, Ema admitted that there was still something missing. “There was just a real sense of emptiness that was quite overwhelming for me, I could not explain it but I felt like there was something missing. No matter what I did, the feeling would not go away. Even though I thought I wanted to become a social worker, something was telling me that this was not the right path for me”.
Ema, searching for answers, found what she was looking for at Breakthrough Church. She credits the beginning of her incredible career to this moment, “Once I started to build a relationship with God, I just had a feeling that God was calling me to study Law. So I went back to Auckland Uni to try and get into Law school, and I did!” The University of Auckland’s Law School is ranked the best Law School in New Zealand and Ema had to compete with thousands of pre-law hopefuls to gain one of the three hundred spots that the University of Auckland’s Law school offered.
Ema attended the University of Auckland as a mature student and admits that, “it was difficult to settle in at University because I had finished high school more than 10 years ago. Things like writing essays were things that I hadn’t done in years”. Regardless, Ema excelled at Law School and while she was a student, was selected by the University to present a research paper in Vanuatu on Tonga’s Constitutional Law Reform.
“As a Pacific Islander at Law School, there are very little opportunities to study issues that are important to our people. So when there was a call for research papers from the University of Auckland’s Law faculty, I knew that I wanted to research and write about something that I was not only genuinely passionate about, but would also help educate others about my home country”. Ema was also selected as one of the top mooters in the Pacific Law issues moot, hosted by the University of Auckland. Ema will be the first to admit that she was not a particularly academic driven student in her younger years, she proves however, that with hard work, dedication and pure passion, success is attainable.
Ema’s learning has extended past the University classrooms. As an active member of the Breakthrough Christian Church, she volunteers her time throughout the community on a regular basis, working with the homeless, female street workers and at risk youth in Auckland. Her busy work schedule does not stop her from wanting to help others in the community. Although Ema is preparing for a jury trial, set to start early next year, she is also working on a potential project in the future which involves creating programmes for people in prison.
As Ema has worked in Probations and is currently working as a defence lawyer in Manukau, she has seen the stress and pain that is involved with not only the defendant when they’re imprisoned but also their families, and more tragically, their children. “There is definitely a strong correlation between dysfunctional families and crime. This is why I want to create programmes for people in prison. I believe that everyone has the ability to make better choices, regardless of their past. If we help to repair and re-build families, one at a time, we can build a community of achievers and game changers".
A game changer in her own right, it’s no secret that Ema, as a young, Pacific, female lawyer, is a minority in the legal profession. Ema therefore values the importance of having a real, physical presence as a lawyer in both the legal world and the community. “I think that it’s important for others in the legal profession to see the significance of having Pacific lawyers within the profession. On the other hand, it’s equally as significant, for Pacific people who come through the legal system to see lawyers who understand their cultural background, not because they’ve read it in a book but because they’ve actually lived it”.
Ema is particularly passionate about helping young Pacific women. “There are many great reasons why young Pacific girls need to have real role models to inspire them. It allows these young, hopeful women to see the achievements and opportunities of other Pacific women and we don’t usually get to see that, you know? We need to encourage girls to make good decisions for their future. I hope, that if someone is able to see a Tongan girl from Mangere, working in a profession that I’m passionate about, it will inspire them to work towards achieving whatever they hope to achieve”.
Ema, in her younger years, was not focused on her future and unlike other students, did not pursue tertiary education immediately after high school. She does however, have a few words for all young people who read her story. “You should explore the things that you are passionate about and don’t be afraid to find out where these things will lead you because you can achieve anything you set your mind on. If you’re not sure about what you are passionate about, that’s ok. It took me years to find the path that God was truly leading me to. Just be brave and keep searching, you’ll get there”.
Thank you Ema for lending your time, wisdom and awesomeness to Truths She Wrote. We wish you all the best for your upcoming jury trial and are looking forward to seeing more of the great things that you will continue to do for our Pacific community!