By FELICITY DARVILLE
March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. Coming on the heels of last week’s tribute for International Women’s Day, I decided to highlight another phenomenal woman. This time, I feature Marisa Mason Smith, a woman who has done so much for the advancement of women in this country, and so much for her fellow citizens on the whole, that she deserves her flowers today.
When I first met Marisa, I met a woman so full of joy and laughter, so friendly and caring, that she struck me as outstanding from the start. She immediately connected with me and and we have maintained that connection over the years. During that time, she has been the same person I met from the very start until now. This consistency is not only displayed in her personality, but also in her professionalism. Because of this, she has become one of the most sought-after human resource experts in the country.
Most recently, Marisa has been placed in the history-making role of the first ombudsman of the University of The Bahamas (UB). Ombudsmen are trusted navigators leading the way toward more just, engaged and inclusive organizations. The primary duties of an organisational ombudsman are to work with individuals and groups in an organisation to explore and assist them in determining options to help resolve conflicts, problematic issues or concerns and to bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organisation for resolution. They must operate in a manner to preserve the confidentiality of those seeking services; maintain a neutral/impartial position with respect to the concerns raised; work at an informal level of the organisational system and remain independent of formal organisational structures.
Since officially taking up the newly-formed post in August last year, Marisa has been very busy with a cross section of people coming to her for assistance. She sits on the Board of Trustees and answers only to UB’s chairman of the board. Therefore, she is available to the students, faculty, other employees, retirees, union members and even to the president of UB if any concerns arise.
“I have made myself available, I have been setting up practices, policies and procedures to govern the office of the ombudsmen, I have been hosting workshops, and I abide by four pillars – impartiality, confidentiality, neutrality and independence,” said Marisa.
“Being the first ombudsman at UB sets the stage for The Bahamas to have them in our organisations and especially in our government. In terms of credibility, the government should lead the way with having an ombudsman. They exist all over the world. They play a critical role in organisations, making sure policies and protocols are followed straight through. People need to know there is a route they can take if they feel they are treated unfairly.
“My office allows people to be treated fairly and respectfully. I hold everyone’s feet to the fire. I make sure that everyone is compliant – to the university’s charter and statutes, industrial agreements and to the law. I seek to resolve matters before they end up in litigation.”
It’s a big responsibility, but one that Marisa has been preparing for all her life. She is a globally-minded and focused human resources professional and practitioner with more than 25 years’ experience in the private and public sector. She earned a masters of science degree in human resource development from the University of Manchester, England; and a bachelors degree in business management with a major in human resource management from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton.
Marisa possesses a host of highly-esteemed skills and she has been deemed
an expert in human resources. She has a successful track record of team-building and management skills. She has spearheaded the development of employee engagement and business strategies; organisational design and diagnosis; succession and manpower planning; analytical and conceptualized thinking skills; and strategic and collaborative partnering with stakeholders. Marisa has applied negotiation and conflict resolution skills in multicultural environments. She has been a lead facilitator in industrial negotiations and labour-related issues.
She is an extraordinary trainer and she has developed, designed and delivered academic, professional development and technical curriculum and training programmes. She has been a change agent that is disciplined, decisive, self-motivated, innovative, performance and results driven. Marisa has been described as an “accountable, collaborative team leader with excellent interpersonal and communication skills and a strong work ethic” and one who will “lead with integrity and fairness” – qualities which are respected, valued and admired.
Since meeting Marisa, I have seen her grace a variety of stages for organisations throughout the country. She is recognised and respected as a highly charged and motivated leader, coach, mentor and lead facilitator within The Bahamas, the Caribbean Region, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. She exhibits an enviable record for managing the process of strategic planning and analysis, developing and creating vision and mission statements; coming up with strategies to implement harmonious working relationships and environments, leadership development, focused team performance, productivity, talent management and capacity building.
“I embrace a philosophy based on achieving business success through human capital, creating an environment where there are no obstacles or excuses - only opportunities, accountability and performance,” she said.
Prior to taking on the role of UB ombudsman, Marisa served as the assistant general manager of human resources and training for Bahamas Power and Light, formerly Bahamas Electricity Corporation. She was promoted to this position in 2012. Before joining BEC, Marisa was a human resource professional for the Bahamas Public Service Commission, Ministry of Public Service. She served the government prior to this as the assistant director of youth in what was the Ministry of Education and Youth in 2000. Her vast career also includes serving as the coordinator of training for the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute, director of development at Kingsway Academy, and as senior operations officer/ credit analyst at the Bahamas Development Bank.
Her extensive professional background and experience in policies and practices for the workforce has led to her representing The Bahamas on an international level, including at the International Labor Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland; the Society for Human Resource Management, USA; the Korea International Co-operation Agency; the Ministry of Economic Development for Taiwan; the Caribbean Agriculture Credit Association; the Caribbean Development Bank; CARILEC Human Resource Professionals and many others.
This kind of track record is one that could only be established through sheer determination, but also an ample dose of faith. Marisa believes that the motivation for her success is because she does it “to the honour and glory of God”.
“All of the opportunities that come my way… the Lord provides them and they open doors for others,” she said.
“That brings me satisfaction. Even being an ombudsman – it’s all about helping people. You have to be wise and focused. I have had very good examples growing up. My father (Keith Mason, former Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force) and my mother (Mable Mason, veteran in human resources and finance) set the tone for our success.”
“I grew up in a home where love was demonstrated and shared. Mummy and daddy worked together to discipline us and they shared love with us. We were raised in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Growing up with my family, including my siblings Keith, Allison and Kevin, was a very enriching experience. We understood the values of life, being respectful, treating people right, and understanding what it means to love and serve God.”
Marisa served as chairman of the National Women’s Advisory Council, and she is the recipient of numerous awards. Among them, she received a National Service Award at Government House for her unwavering dedication to Zonta International during their centenary celebrations; she was the recipient of the Focused Woman International Award; and she was recognised by the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development during the 57th anniversary celebrations of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.
Despite a ton of accolades that could be mentioned, Marisa is a down-to-earth person who can be seen working the streets and meeting everyday women in the community for Zonta Club of New Providence. She doesn’t just promote women’s rights, she takes the time to personally go into the community through various programmes and meet women of every age and status to find out what their needs and concerns are. As national advocacy chairman for Zointa, she applies what she learns from the women into advocacy campaigns that would make a difference.
“I am very passionate about the development of women in my country,” she said.
“I joined Zonta because I wanted to empower women. I love to see women grow and develop, and I want to see women in my country have a better life.”
Marisa is currently developing some personal projects to empower people. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.