Rowena Marin is a Romani woman, author, and Global Agency Lead at Google, in New York. She is the co-founder of The School of Reinvention – a company meant to help people align with their passions and purpose. In her book: ‘Who am I in the world?” she tells her story in order to encourage other young women from closed communities to pursue education, grow and define themselves beyond any labels. In this interview we explore, among others, what shape individual and personal questions can take for companies interested in D&I.
This interview was first published in Diversity Management in Romanian Organisations, 2nd edition, June 2023, Bucharest.
Rowena, “Who am I” and “Why am I here” are two of the biggest questions for a human
being. Do you think there are multiple levels on which one can ask such questions and if
so, what are those levels for you?
I have to say that I love the fact you mentioned “levels”, because yes, I think there are,
certainly, multiple levels on which we could ask such questions, for different areas of our
Also, there are different milestones when we can come back to“who am I”, as life changes
and we adapt to newer realities.
For instance, in my case I started this journey to definiying my identity beyond the labels of
my ethnicity. That was one level of the most important areas of my life at one moment in
time. But in the same area I went deeper and pushed through the limitations that came with
my gender, as well. Now, a few years into exploring my true identity I became a mother. In
this new light, the same question for a a different area, and enriched with my experience so
far, is coming up. So I believe we can grow with such questions and we can come back to
them time and time again, if we allow ourselves to constantly question our limitations and
align ourselves with our highest potential.
Would questions like these apply to an organizational and community level as well? What
shape should they take?
An organization or community is made of sentient beings coming together under one
purpose that transcendes their personal goals. I think that for the leaders of organizations
and communities it is crucial to constantly explore their mission, defining how this will drive
growth for each person in the group. The answers to questions like “why we exist” and
“how your personal effort brings value to the world” should be the North Star for any
organization. I believe in an underlying desire of people to contribute to the world, but for
that we need leadership that makes clear the “WHAT”, the “WHY” and the “HOW”.
The tragedy of your cousin’s death led you to inner inquiry. What do you think would be a
catalyst for Romanian companies to shift perspective on the way they think and act about
the inclusion of Roma people in the workplace?
Romanian companies are made of Romanian people, so what is needed is a shift in
perspective of the Romanian people that still think of the Roma in a stereotypical way. For
that, I believe two things have to happen. On their end they need to accept their limitations
in thinking and open their heart to curiosity around this topic. The second thing that has to
happen is that we – the Roma people need to open up as well and take responsibility by
being part of society with our Roma hats on. There are still too many people of my ethnicity
that don’t speak openly about their routes.
I am very hopeful, though, because both things are happening more and more, these days,
compared to 10 -15 years ago. So there is momentum, but we still need to build.
Fear is the main reason why some Roma people don’t talk about their ethnicity and Fear is
the reason why some Romanian people don’t open their mind to getting to know the Roma
people. In the first case, I hope it’s clear why. We did have 500 years of slavery in our
country and that generational trauma has not been healed. In the latter case, it’s the same
as in other countries: fear of the unknown. One is afraid of what one does not know and
that’s how racisim is created.They think they do, but they don’t. In my opinion, it is that
In an interview you say that the road towards discouraging racism is long, but at least we
are on that road, which was not the case when you were little. What do you think are the
biggest obstacles on this road and what would be the next important milestone?
Yes, we are on the road.The biggest obstacles are generational trauma and lack of
examples/education. Therefore, in my opinion, the road to healing should be continued
with: education and examples. We need to talk about slavery in Romania, openly, in schools,
movies, art, media, etc. It’s only by ripping the proverbial “band-aid” can we heal the
trauma. Education around this topic and also our ways and our culture, together with more
examples of Roma people in leadership roles, can contribute to changing the existing
narrative and group consciousness.
You worked in companies from different countries of the world. Did you experience
racism or mobbing in the work-place? On the other side, are there any inspiring initiatives
at an organisational level that the Romanian companies can learn from?
I worked in four countries with people all over the world, coming from most of the
continents and the only country where I met people that had a racist speach, was my own. I
was not dicriminated against because I did not speak openly about my ethnicity, back then,
but that’s why I had colleagues that would make racist comments about the Roma people,
not knowing they were talking to one. Although I did not see it at that time, it shook me to
my core, as it made me question my self-worth, specially as a young woman.
But, now I am very fortunate to be part of a company where I could be anyone and I am
valued for who I am. Google embraces all identities. I love our internal slogan that says:
“There is a world where everybody belongs, we just need to build it”. That’s what I hope
Romanian companies will envision for their future. If not for the right cause, at least for the
sole purpose that companies with more diverse leadership are eight times more likely to
achieve better business outcomes, according to a McKinsey research.
A new door opened to you through a scholarship offered through The Roma Education
Fund, an opportunity that changed your life—describing the experience you say that for
most Roma girls, education is a whim / caprice. What do you think is the cause for this?
Poverty and patriarchy. Families that live on a few dollars a day cannot afford having girls
going to school and not working. Therefore, education – which takes so long to bring an ROI,
is seen as a whim. And then, in the cases where families are better off and don’t live in
poverty, the men decide the faith of women/girls in the community and some see education
as a threat for the future of the community. Educated girls will not accept old ways, whereas
patriarchy generally wants to preserve traditions. But things are changing, little by little, as
fathers and brothers start to understand the long term benefit of having an educated
You started an NGO called Women Manifesto 4.0. Even though it is not active anymore
can you talk about its mission and if you intend on developing the idea sometime in the
Women Manifesto 4.0 is meant to create a community of women that are willing to take up
the challenge of self-discovery and personal growth. We come together to support each
other in our journey’s to growth in our own version of success, beyond the traditional
definition of that term.
But since I moved to the US I am not actively participating in the organization. My focus
now changed to creating a community of Roma women only, that left their communities
and are thriving in different corners of the world, on their own journey’s to understanding
who they are. We come together once a month, in a conversation aimed at healing the past.
The main mission is to give back by each of us becoming mentors for young ladies that are
curious to start their own deep dive into the unknown of self-knowledge.