Last year the Diversity Task Force of the United Nations in Moldova tasked us, its communication focal points, with conducting an internal diversity survey to verify the degree of diversity among UN staff in the country, and staff attitudes towards diversity. The results were something of an eye-opener. Not only were some groups of the population – LGBT, Roma, people with disabilities –underrepresented among the 300+ staff of all UN agencies in Moldova, but the attitude of staff towards minorities showed that there are still important steps to be taken in this regard.

The data shows that one in four staff members would not feel comfortable working with a colleague with a mental impairment. Also, 7 percent of the respondents will not feel comfortable working with an openly lesbian boss.

A reason behind these prejudices might be that a part of our staff had never been exposed to people from these groups before and is therefore affected by irrational fears and misconceptions.

A plan to embrace diversity

When discussing the management response to these results, one of the most innovative proposals was to launch a first internship program for persons from vulnerable groups.

How would that work? The idea was to kill two birds with one stone: Thanks to this internship program, we would address the problem of UN staff never having had the chance to work really closely to some of the minorities we work for. And, at the same time, we would offer a unique opportunity to members of these communities to try out what it means to work for an international organization and gain much-needed on-the-job experience to help in their future job search.

That’s how, on Zero Discrimination Day (1st March), the UN in Moldova launched our Diversity Internship Programme. Following an open call which we distributed widely through all our civil society partners and public information channels, we could recruit a uniquely varied group of interns who put their skills at the disposal of UN agencies for two and a half months (you don’t want to miss their videos talking about this opportunity!).

A recent study by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) demonstrates that direct contact with persons from underrepresented groups considerably reduces social distance and increases social inclusion. We will measure in our next Diversity Survey if this is reflected in changed attitudes of our staff towards relevant groups.

But certainly it is already clear that working side by side with our new colleagues with disabilities, from underrepresented ethnic groups or coming from traditionally marginalised communities has been an eye-opener for many of us.

The new colleagues have brought with them a fantastic wealth of new ideas and perspectives. While we rejoice seeing them thrive in the UN working environment, reinforcing our belief that Moldova is missing on an enormous potential by not fully using the talents of all its population groups.

To share these impressions, while the program was rolling out we decided to come out in public with our first results. After presenting our interns and the best practices of our partners, we invited public and private institutions to accept a challenge – and commit to create same internship opportunities for vulnerable groups within their offices. This resulted in seven public and private organizations signing a solemn commitment with concrete follow-up steps. We are now helping potential candidates participate in initial interviews and get ready to meet major changes in their lives.

This makes us extremely happy since it realises one of the key aspirations of our Diversity Task Force: adopting best practices to change ourselves and inspire others. Or as they say: “be the change you want to see in the world”.

SANDRA CAVALLO, XENIA SIMINCIUC