Court Street ‘community built me so much’
As a young girl, Francine Mason realised there was a stigma attached to Court Street.
It made her determined to prove good things could come out of her neighbourhood.
The 47-year-old from “the back of town” has been a partner with global accounting firm Rawlinson & Hunter since 2011.
“In my teen years we lived on Court Street an area which to many people represents a dangerous part of Bermuda,” Mrs Mason said.
“There's a stigma that not much good comes out of Court Street, but this community built me so much. I lived among, and saw, drug addicts every single last day.
“You would be surprised but those were actually the ones that encouraged me the most.
“When I would walk through the neighbourhood, I was greeted with smiles, compliments and positive conversation from the same men that were regarded as thugs and no good by others.
“If someone approached me and tried to pressure me into doing anything negative, my supporters would tell them to stay away from me so I could walk on through it.
“They celebrated my every milestone, no matter how small, and motivated me every step of the way. I made lifelong girlfriends during my time on Till's Hill who I still regard as some of my best friends today.”
The experience “toughened” her up and provided her with a mantra that she still lives by today: support is crucial.
It's something she learnt from her mom, Linda Russell.
“I was born to her while she was a nursing student in the UK and she took the risk of bringing me back to Bermuda and having close family friends look after me while she completed her studies and internship,” Mrs Mason said. “[Mark and Barbara Robinson] were a couple who already had four children of their own, but they took me in and treated me just like I was one of theirs. I'm so blessed to have two families.
“I'm the only child to my mom, but I'm lucky to have another set of parents, brothers and sisters who have always supported me in everything I do.”
Mrs Mason moved in with her mom after she returned to the Island. She graduated from Dalhousie University with a BSc, having majored in accounting.
She started working at Deloitte, where she was taken under the wings of former MP Terry Lister who was then a partner with the firm.
He saw potential in her even when she didn't see it herself.
“I wasn't successful in my accounting professional exams the first time around but [Terry] motivated me to dig my heels in and kept me focused,” she said.
“He would sit me down and talk to me like a daughter.”
His mentoring paid off with a CPA designation.
Mrs Mason was impressed by the number of females in leadership positions when she joined Deloitte's London office.
“Before leaving Bermuda the accounting firms represented an environment that was male-dominated so when I arrived in London and saw women in leadership roles in firms, it really inspired me,” she said.
“Although I had seen it in a small way in Bermuda it was now in plain sight, in my everyday world. It was a real eye-opener for me.
“Today, female influence and leadership is more evident in the local business environment although there is still a clear minority for sure.”
She had a similar experience when she joined the offices of Lombard Odier in Geneva, Switzerland.
She spent two years with the firm with support from her husband, Perry, daughters Sydney and Ryley and stepdaughter Janée.
While there she met females who were directors of massive global organisations.
“They demonstrated that those who are hungry for knowledge and open to listening will be taught and success will come their way,” Mrs Mason said.
“These experiences have made me super determined and grateful for my mistakes which have imparted in me great wisdom even though they were difficult to go through.
“I see my failures as opportunities to develop and grow and I've had many ‘opportunities' to grow for sure.”
Mrs Mason's role at Rawlinson & Hunter has given her the chance to work alongside young women and collaborate with partners Paul Hubbard and Jim Leitch as they grow the business.
Her biggest advice to working women is to remember to take care of yourself.
“Oftentimes we've tried to do it all, focusing on everything and everyone else — work, family, friends — but not ourselves,” Mrs Mason said.
“As women we take on so much responsibility which can potentially hinder our achievements. It's important to determine what success looks like for yourself.”
Mrs Mason is a member of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Bermuda.
The group is hosting a women's leadership conference on September 23 from 8.30am to 5pm.
The event, which takes place at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, will focus on such topics as career advocacy, work-life balance and leadership.
Tickets are $395 for CPA members and $450 for non-members and are available at www.ptix.bm.