What drives Emma Parry: leader profile

Dr Emma Parry is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a subspecialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine. Based at Auckland City Hospital in her public role, she is the Clinical Director of the New Zealand Maternal Fetal Medicine Network. Parry is driven by her passion to develop Maternity Services which allow women to access care easily and safely. Global Women profiled her for Leadership Week.

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HER NUMBER ONE ROLE MODEL? HER MOTHER

“My mum is hardworking and kind – and has never let me give up on my dreams,” says Parry.

Her mother grew up in an era where females didn’t go to university. Instead, she was sent off to secretarial college, and then found work at medical rooms. This was really how the seeds of a medical career were sown for Parry.

“As a child I would hang out there and was exposed to lots of specialists and got to hear a lot of medical speak,” she says.

Despite the fact Parry’s high school hadn’t seen a student go on to medical school for 10 years, she got an interview enabled by one of specialists her mother worked for.

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED

It’s never too late to change your career. Parry wanted to be an academic ever since medical school, since she “loved the excitement of it and loved to teach,” and at age 32 she qualified as a specialist and began her academic career as a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland.

“But soon I realised I wasn’t cut out to be an academic. I loved teaching, networking, management and the clinical work – but I didn’t like doing research. If I was to stay in academia, I knew my goal would be Head of Department, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to follow that pathway since my strength was not research.”

So she switched tack and left academia. By doing this she gained the ability and autonomy to make changes.

“At the university, I was a small cog in a big system. But as a clinical lead in a small hospital department I could make change quite quickly and nimbly. So the lesson was that despite what your peers may think, it’s never too late to change careers.

“In your 20s and 30s you get quite set on things, thinking ‘OK I will be a professor”. But if I’d stuck to it, I wouldn’t have used my natural skill-set.”

ENSURING SHE KEEPS DEVELOPING AS A LEADER

Mentors are key, and as Parry’s career has developed she’s added business-minded mentors to her existing medical ones.

She continues to set new goals to ensure her development. “At the moment I’m honing my governance skills through my job and also in opportunities that have come up to join boards – many through contacts at Global Women,” she says.

“I think for me belonging Global Women is really important. You can see how others deal with situations, and I try to take advantage of most of the opportunities. I’ve just signed up for the digital update day in September.”

THE ONE CHARACTERISTIC EVERY LEADER MUST HAVE

Be authentic. “Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, happy or grumpy, if you fake it, it will get worked out.”

“If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, it’s really very difficult to sell it to other people. Sometimes you have to deal with this misalignment, in order to remain authentic. If you don’t believe in something and are not enthusiastic about it, everyone will know it. You do yourself a disservice in your career.”

ADVICE TO ASPIRING LEADERS? WORK HARD.

“If you’re slacking off, why would other people want to work for you? And this is on actual deliverables, not just sending emails late at night so that it looks like you’re working hard!”

She also advises to treat everyone the way you want to be treated, from the cleaner to the CEO. When people come to her for a reference, the first thing she does is ask other members of the team what that person is like.

“If anyone says they are unkind, that doesn’t cut it with me. Even if you have to performance-manage a difficult person, be respectful.”

But by the same token she says don’t judge someone by another person’s negative opinion of them: give them a chance and make up your own mind.

EXCITING DEVELOPMENT SHE’S INVOLVED WITH CURRENTLY

Bringing a new, safe screening test for Down Syndrome to pregnant mums to Auckland.

To test their unborn babies for Down Syndrome, most women sign up for a scan. If this reveals any risk, they can have further diagnostic tests, but these are invasive and can cause miscarriage. But for ten years now another test has been in development internationally, which looks at fetal DNA in the mother’s blood. This non-invasive pre-natal testing (NIPT) is offered in many countries but so far New Zealand has only in a couple of laboratories – with minimal counselling and support, says Parry.

In May she decided she wanted to open a clinic in Auckland, and it will open at Ascot Radiology in August.

“I couldn’t wait, I can’t do anything slowly!” she says.

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