Ofa Fitzgibbons was 39 years old when she first met her son.
Today, Ofa is a Senior Advisor with our Strategic Partnerships Program but in 2019 she was a Communication Advisor.
“I struggled with infertility for a decade and had given up hope of ever having a family of my own,” Ofa explained. But then family in New Zealand offered her and her partner Danny a kinship adoption, commonly known in the Maori culture as whangai.
On full maternity leave, Ofa and Danny were able to travel to New Zealand to be present for their son’s birth. They named him Fox.
“He was six days old when he got his first passport, which was a mission to get because he needed to have his eyes open,” Ofa remembered with a laugh.
Having Fox in her life has brought great joy as well as moments of deep reflection.
Ofa is a Maori-Tongan woman and a daughter of migrants from New Zealand, while Danny is an Australian of European descent. As a mother, Ofa wanted to pave the way for Fox who was growing up in this biracial family.
“We want to create a narrative [for Fox] where all of his identities are welcome. Where they will become his superpowers as opposed to my experience growing up where I always felt ‘othered’.”
The personal becomes professional at Sydney WorldPride
Thinking about Fox also brought into perspective what Ofa wanted for herself. A big step in this direction was the decision to march in Mardi Gras at Sydney WorldPride. Ofa is also a member of our Pride@CSIRO Network.
“Even though I’m in a hetero-appearing relationship, I identify as pansexual. This feels really personal to share openly and publicly,” she admitted.
“It’s definitely an edge for me. I’m willing to go there because I didn’t have any role models or people in my community who were like me.”
Explaining that representation matters, Ofa said: “I am excited about showing up with all of my identities. I want to just enjoy the company of colleagues who care. Whether they identify or are an ally, we’re all on this journey together.”
In 2023, Ofa celebrated seven years with CSIRO. In that time, she’s worked in science communication for multiple teams including education, health and biosecurity. More recently, she made the jump to business development.
“From a professional point of view, it’s been a really great organisation to work in. From a diversity point of view, it is probably the only organisation I felt allowed me to be involved in activities that support my personal values.”
Learning how to (un)mask
Growing up in a regional town that lacked diversity, Ofa learned early how to blend in.
“You have to learn how to mask, particularly in corporate space,” she said.
This is particularly true of the field of communication and marketing which is often predominantly white. Now, she’s working on reversing the process.
Outside CSIRO, Ofa volunteers with a not-for-profit organisation Women of Colour Australia. Among other things, they design leadership and mentoring programs to support their members in professional settings.
Ofa also actively engages with our human resources team to provide feedback on official policy within the organisation.
“For me personally, it’s about being in an environment where I feel safe enough to be me – where I feel like I matter, where I can look around and see others like me doing work that matters. And this creates a sense of belonging and belief in myself and what I’m doing. It positively impacts the way I show up and take up space at work and in my personal life.”
More than ever, she believes it’s important to connect. And she’s committed to doing it as a participant in Sydney WorldPride.
“I’m sharing my story because there have been times when I felt very isolated. And if there’s one person who reads that story and completely understands, who relates and as a result doesn’t feel so alone, it would be a huge win for me.”
20th February 2023 at 9:15 am
Love your honesty and strength in telling your story Ofa. What a great role model you are to all.
17th February 2023 at 3:35 pm
Love this story, thanks for sharing Ofa. The Maori cloak is exquisite and Fox is the cutest little kid ever! I’m so glad you are part of the CSIRO family!