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Ambassadors without diplomatic passport - Rostya Gordon Smith

Rostya Gordon Smith is amongst 50 TOP HR experts in the world, however, in the Czech Republic she symbolizes „Ambassador of Women“ and their rights to be represented both in politics and business while not having to make a choice between a work and family.  Rostya has worked in 10 countries; she has four sons (each born on a different continent) and eight grandchildren.

 Besides being a strong advocate of women quotas, Rostya is a strong supporter of motherhood and the role of a family in a society in general.  She claims that „no professional success can make up for the failure in family sphere“.  At the age when most women retire, Rostya came up with “a small project to keep her busy” but those who know Rostya know that wherever she invests her energy, things start to change.  Her movement is called Minerva 21 with the aim to ”unite confident women who believe in continuous self-development, who will share their experience with others and who will strive to have a positive impact and influence in the society they live in“. Founding Minerva 21 was a response to the fact that there are more than 90 organizations specializing in women´s issues and often do not know about each other’s activities.  Already after three months of existence, Minerva 21 managed to launch a mentoring scheme for students at the Technical University in Ostrava, organize a debate in Parliament and hold several networking events in Prague and Brno with the ultimate aim to persuade women to cooperate and not to compete. 

How do you see today´s world?

Generally, I see great opportunities for individuals who have strong values, energy, and the passion to be involved in public life. I believe that opportunities abound for those interested in creating and forming grass-roots movements and influencing local communities for good. Granted, the world nowadays is globalized, but even so, local communities needs to grow stronger and defend their rights to exist; we still need to execute a level of influence over the places in which we live.  

How do you see today´s world?

Generally, I see great opportunities for individuals who have strong values, energy, and the passion to be involved in public life. I believe that opportunities abound for those interested in creating and forming grass-roots movements and influencing local communities for good. Granted, the world nowadays is globalized, but even so, local communities needs to grow stronger and defend their rights to exist; we still need to execute a level of influence over the places in which we live.  

How do you see the position of the Czech Republic in the world?

The world is a big place and the Czech Republic is a small country.  When talking about countries, size doesn’t matter. Small countries can yield tremendous influence, and the Czech Republic is one such country. Now is a great time to develop a society with strong feelings of pride and patriotism.  We need a country where people hold to their values, build strong families, are open to new ideas, and are eager to become a leader in some global specialty.  To put it simply, the Czech Republic needs to be sophisticated enough “to do” rather than “be done to”.

You often claim that “the reality is different behind the boarders” and that Czechs should not lock themselves in the local, provincial thinking and that barriers are only within our minds but they do not exist physically anymore.  Have you thought after returning from abroad in 1990 that you would have to do this still after 25 years of democracy?

I returned to the Czech Republic in 1997 with the idea that I had learned many valuable lessons having lived in 10 different countries and having worked in at least 15 others. I decided to give my energy to the country of my birth. The barriers I talk about are the paradigms that we hold in our minds.  I call them “mental cages”.  These are the common sayings that are popular and have some truth, but should not be applied to our values.  For example: “Za dobrotu na žebrotu” (Being good leads to becoming a beggar), many times this paradigm stops us from going the extra mile to help others or get involved.  Another matter that bothers me, and I would love to change it, is the general gloominess of the Czech population and the lack of motivation to want to change things around us.

You are also an expert on organizational development and intercultural communication plays a great role.  Which intercultural traits do you see beneficial for Czechs and which ones we should change?

I love the Czech ability to adjust, be flexible, and join together in times of crisis.  On the other hand, the general pessimism and resignation among us saddens me: our lack of ability to participate in a fruitful and useful discussion and get involved in a cause.  It seems to me that we are mainly concerned with ourselves only.

Women cooperation and mutual support is often considered their weakness.  However, many men came to me to warn me against “idealizing” men cooperation.  So what differences do you see?

I do not “idealize” cooperation amongst men or women.  I accept that we both work in different ways.  Such would be an ideal situation for the advancement of diversity, but women still do not have adequate representation in all sorts of areas where decision making is taking place.  This is wrong.  Such exclusion is not a reflection of a mature and sophisticated society.

This was one of the reasons I found MINERVA 21 earlier this year.

How do you perceive MINERVA 21 movement after six months of its existence?

I returned back to this country after nearly 25 years living abroad.  One of the main reasons for this was that I wanted to share my experiences from not one country, but from many countries.  I found MINERVA 21 and identified it as a “movement” because I believe that we need to move from many position and paradigms in this country in order to create a better society for all of us.  I believe that united women could be a driving force for positive change in this country.  All the members of the MINERVA 21 board are successful women who have reached prominent positions, created businesses and non-profit organizations, and are mothers and wives.  We are a perfect mix of what women in this society are. Even I could not imagine the progress we have achieved in only 6 months.  Women responded to our “call” and joined us, are helping us, are participating, and are committed.  In short, we are confident women!

Many men complain that all activities that are mushrooming for women in the Czech Republic do not support diversity in the long term.  How can you persuade men to cooperate with women more? Can men who are interested in diversity become involved in Minerva 21 movement?

I do not really know what men are complaining about. I know that many men – mainly the younger generation—are open to diversity and working with women on an equal basis. I think men who care about this country should join with women in this movement to build a more equal and fair society.

What is your final word to Prague Leaders readers?

It really is my challenge to both women and men: come and see.  Come and contribute.  Come and become part of this movement.  Come and be “MINERVANKA” or “MINERVÁK” and help us, each according to your ability and circumstances, to contribute to the better future for all of us.

By Linda Štucbartová

PragueConnect.cz in cooperation with Czech Leaders Magazine