4 Questions for... Una Clifford-Bahçecik from European Investment Bank

min read

With our short interview series we want to give you an insight into the daily work of our clients and partners. First off is Una Clifford-Bahçecik, who works as Senior DE&I Advisor at the European Investment Bank (EIB).

1. What motivates and drives you in your daily work?

I feel privileged to fulfill a role which is, to a great extent, about helping people. A lot of what we do in our office is about ensuring that underrepresented communities and staff members with diverse profiles have a voice, are actively listened to and have the opportunity to contribute with their unique perspective in our workplace. 

As in most organisations, we set professional objectives at the start of each year at the EIB. In parallel, I have developed my own “off-grid” performance management system. I set myself my personal “KPI” related to the number of individuals whose experience I can help to improve by driving a more inclusive workplace. At the EIB we work with the goal of developing systemic policy solutions that bring benefit to all. It’s a pretty good feeling.

2. What does diversity mean to you?

I grew up in Northern Ireland at the time of the “Troubles” and being different was not necessarily a comfortable position to find oneself in. My parents decided to send me and my sisters to a school on the other side of the sectarian divide. At the time, they told us it was because it was a “good school”. As an adult and a parent myself, I wonder if this may not have been the sole motivating factor in their decision. Whether intended or not, their choice of school helped to instill in us the belief that being diverse, not always fitting in, is something of which we could be proud. It also served an important life lesson about respect for others.

For me, diversity is about understanding we are stronger when we work together not in spite of being different, rather because of it. Neither your solution, nor mine, will provide the only or the ultimate answer. When we design services and products on the basis of a wide range of perspectives, we will come to a richer and more innovative result which benefits a wider audience. That is just smart business.

But diversity does not come easily or without effort. When opinions other than our own are voiced, we have to be receptive to them and prepared to expand our own vision to encompass others. An inclusive environment and mindset is an absolute prerequisite for successful diversity. 

3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about diversity positions (and measures) in companies?

When it comes to diversity in recruitment for example, we often hear this question from hiring managers: “If I am forced to decide between merit and diversity, which one wins?” The underlying assumption is that diversity and merit are diametrically opposed concepts.

Diversity, equity and inclusion do not mean denying the many talents and merits of any one candidate or existing team member. They provide us with a lens through which we can really see those candidates whose talents and merits may currently be underrepresented. Expanding our paradigm of merit can help to enrich and future-proof our teams in a world which is evolving at the speed of light! 


4. What is your / the EIB’s biggest diversity challenge and how do you tackle it?

My personal challenge and that of the EIB are probably well aligned. Time and patience. 

Building an inclusive workplace which fosters diverse talent for the benefit of everyone takes time. It implies a cultural shift and that can only come with preparation, trial, sometimes error, and keen persistence. 

It would be too easy to think that diversity is simply a matter of hiring more women, flying the rainbow flag for Pride or making sure that our buildings and websites are accessible for all. It couldn’t be further from the truth. If an organisation hires a woman who finds herself in a male-dominated workplace where she finds no place at the decision making table, the business is unlikely to retain that female talent. Or if an autistic colleague is hired through a specific neurodiversity recruitment drive but finds themselves working for a boss who fails to appreciate their need for specific accommodations, no one stands to gain.

Mentoring is one of the many tools that we are harnessing to open a window onto the experience of others and to foster real talent at the EIB. In addition to the positive experience that our mentors and mentees have had with the eSister mentoring programme, we have launched informal reverse mentoring experiences on disability and LGBTIQ inclusion.

Like many, I am often impatient to “get there”, to arrive and to achieve on targets. But with time, I have come to understand that there really is no end point in this job. The journey towards becoming more inclusive every single day is the goal. So for now, I am just enjoying the ride!

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