Living Culture at Fortis | An Interview with our National Director Mary Gurgone

International Day of People with Disability
November 29, 2017
Living Culture at Fortis | An Interview with CEO of Chung Wah Association Teresa Kwok
February 16, 2018

In 2009, Mary Gurgone joined Fortis Consulting as National Director. Mary managed the rapid growth across government, community and public sector organisations through business diversification, partnership development and organisational change. This focus led to Fortis being identified as one of the top 30 consulting businesses in WA by Business News, an amazing accomplishment as this award came during the uncertainty of the Global Financial Crisis – a true testimony to the achievements of the organisation.

Mary is a national leader in workforce and organisational development, community engagement and social development. She is devoted to cultural and linguistic diversity and Aboriginal well-being. Her experience in the public-sector spans education, training, audit, evaluation and policy roles.

Mary is a non-executive Director on the Board of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) and more recently Board member and Chair of the Zonta House Women’s Refuge. In her role with Zonta House she led the establishment of the Positive Pathways program that won the WACOSS Community Award in 2016.


 What attracted you to join Fortis Consulting in 2009?

I was attracted to the role with Fortis Consulting as it provided the opportunity to utilise my skills and experience in my areas of passion: diversity, culture and capability development with my strong focus in contributing to the community sector in social policy and governance. I have family ties with Adrian and hold him in high regard for founding Fortis Consulting which over the last ten years has provided significant and sustainable change, not only across Western Australia but also nationally with our clients, partners and networks.


 As Fortis begins planning to celebrate its ten-year anniversary, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud to have contributed to the realisation by mainstream organisations about the importance of diversity. With the growth of mobility and online communication, there is now a greater understanding that effectively managing diversity and culture are essential not only in the community sector and across government but also in the private sector.
What has been the strength of Fortis, is our collaborative journey with organisations inside and outside of government who have been game changers when it comes to diversity and culture, such as Screenwest, Brightwater Group and the Department of Defence.


 Fortis is the Partner in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) provider contracted by the Australian Government for Western Australia. What do you see as the main barriers to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people accessing services in the aged care sector?

Everybody has had difficulty keeping up with the many changes in the Aged Care Sector. Migrants may have the added barriers of not understanding the language or government bureaucracy as well as some of the locals. With such barriers it becomes really difficult to live a good life in old age.
Some people enjoy the help of strong community organisations or family members who can help them negotiate the maze of how to get the right support. There are many who are from emerging communities who are often isolated; not only from their own fears and anxieties of culture, language and structures they may not understand but also due to the lack of support networks.
PICAC provides a link between culturally specific service providers, government, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) organisations and new and emerging organisations.

 In your projects, how do you manage the balancing of maximising financial Return on Investment with improving the social aspects and culture of the organisation?

This is always a challenge and there is never one solution, for example when will Fortis give our time free of charge to NFPs and when will we charge competitive rates to be able to be a sustainable business? We have always worked with the community and charitable sector in a different way: for the charitable sector we find ways of funding finding a source of funding for their projects. This is our way of giving back to our communities.

 As a female leader, have you reached into your own experiences when developing gender diversity programs?

Very much so; diversity programs always have the head, heart and gut elements. There are aspects that you can learn from a book, but the heart makes every project vibrant and provides the emotional link. The other is the gut; with diversity we recognise that decision-makers on boards and in organisations can be blind to something that they have never experienced. It is easy to say that everyone is the same if you haven’t been excluded or walked in those high heeled shoes entering a boardroom trying to convince board members – who may have no idea what it’s like juggling the role as carer to family members while climbing the career ladder.

Reaching into your own experiences, you understand deeply what diversity means by adding the dimensions of the heart and gut to the development of programs.

 Ultimately, what has been your fondest memory at Fortis from the first ten years?

I think my fondest memories are the people. Because we are who we are; we attract people who share our values and commitment. In turn it is really the people that we remember from our experiences. For example, when we developed the Culture, Communication and Relationships at Work (CCRW) program we had people around us who had the same passion and commitment right across the board from Brightwater, Juniper, Migrant Resource Centre and our own organisation. We attracted people who viewed the world through a similar lens. This has continued with our current team who are passionate and committed to being part of positive change. Some of the fondest memories I have include the laughter and support we provide to one another. It is energising.