Aspire to serve

Sisilia Eteuati is a writer, creative, lawyer and proud single mum of two. She is the Chief Legal Counsel, Operations with NZ Customs. Sisilia recently co-edited the book Va – Stories by Women of the Moana, a collection of 38 short fictional stories by Pacific women authors. She is also a participant of Tu Mau Mana Moana, the first Mana Moana Leadership programme for Pacific leaders in the Public Service.


What brought you to a career in the Public Service?

Back in the 1970s, while the dawn raids and other racism were being perpetuated against Pacific Islanders, my Samoan father was appearing in papers across Aotearoa for his academic achievements. He had several career options open to him, in both academia and law, but decided to go home to Samoa to become a public servant because he truly believed in serving his people. My Dad, along with my mum who is a teacher, are role models for me. They held up serving others as something people should aspire to and that is what I aim for as a public servant.

Could you tell me about your current role and what you most enjoy about it?

I’m currently the Chief Legal Counsel, Operations with Customs. This means I lead a team of lawyers who provide advice to Customs Officers on their powers, duties and obligations. I love the role because I love working as part of a team and supporting each other to grow and because Customs deals with some interesting and wide-reaching areas of law from collecting taxes to what you see on Border Patrol.

Have you experienced any challenges during your career and how did you overcome them?

Yes, and it’s even a challenge to admit that working in areas that are male-dominated and predominantly palagi/European has been a challenge. Something that has been crucial for me is having a deep sense of who I am and my own values. I try to create meaningful connections where I’m able to just be myself.

What changes would you like to see for wāhine who work in the Public Service?

I’d love for wāhine to feel encouraged and supported in their careers and the Public Service to be a place where they are truly valued for the diversity they bring to work. I’d love to be a part of a Public Service that, at all levels, is reflective of our population and lives up to its aspirations of eliminating gender or ethnic pay gaps.

What advice would you give to others looking to further their careers and pursue leadership roles in the Public Service?

There are different types of leaders and different ways to be leaders. Also, yes, just put in that application!


 Sisilia Eteuati at the launch of Va, with her two children.

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