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Cristina and her wife work for UNHCR

Cristina and her wife work for UNHCR

Increasingly more and more organisations around the world are realising that there are many gains to be made from forging a work culture that doesn’t just accept employee differences - but truly celebrates them. And when it comes to challenging inappropriate and outdated stereotypes or ensuring everyone feels included at work, UNHCR is certainly making great strides.

Cristina Franchini works as an External Relations officer in Rome in Italy. She feels strongly about expecting an open and supportive culture at work. Bringing her “whole self” to work matters deeply.

Feeling OK about being different

“I remember the time I came out with my supervisor, ten years ago, when I was hired by UNHCR. We were on mission together and she asked me if I had a boyfriend. I mumbled something, embarrassed. The day after I decided to tell her the truth, that I was lesbian and I had a girlfriend. She apologised and told me that she should have asked me if I had a partner instead,” explains Cristina.

“From that day, I understood how important it is to be open at the workplace. I immediately felt recognised and supported, something that took me years to achieve with my parents. From that very day, I started sharing my personal life with colleagues, to the point that many of them, my former supervisor first, are among my dearest friends and part of my life.”

We were married in Portugal as equal marriage wasn’t legal in Rome

“Both my wife Patrizia and I work for UNHCR, in Rome. When we got married in 2013 many colleagues participated to our wedding in Portugal, when equal marriage was not legal in Italy. We felt protected and supported. Then, we got married in Italy too and they organised a surprise party for us. When you are part of a humanitarian organisation whose mandate is to protect also LGBTI people, you expect this kind of support. The office has become our family and it would be great if every UNHCR office around the world was this inclusive.”

Diversity is key to success

“The principle of equality is a fundamental human right, also at the basis of the Geneva Convention for the protection of refugees. Diversity, which means that each individual is unique, is part of the equality principle, and encompasses the idea of respect and acceptance of differences. Each of us can bring along qualities related to, for example, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities that have to be supported and protected from prejudice and discrimination,” says Cristina.

LGBTI colleagues can make great role models

To be able to deliver the best protection and assistance, Cristina believes the work culture at UNHCR has to be diverse. “Knowing how to relate to different characteristics can create a positive and nurturing environment. I firmly believe that being open can help our family members, colleagues and friends to understand, to appreciate a different way of being or behaving and, eventually, to change their mind. This is extremely important in a multicultural environment and for an agency, like UNHCR, that aims at giving protection and safety to those in need. LGBTI colleagues can act as role models in order to combat discrimination, prejudices and misperception that can also affect the protection of LGBTI refugees.”

Working for an open minded organisation

Women are actively encouraged to apply for roles with this humanitarian organisation because UNHCR actively recruits for a diverse workforce regardless of background, race, gender or sexual orientation. 

Impressive women like Cristina Franchini choose to work for UNHCR because they have a passion for humanitarian work. Cristina holds a law degree and a PHD in international law. She started working for UNHCR in 2007 as a legal officer, at the beginning in the area of arrivals by sea and reception of asylum seekers and then, for many years, in the Italian procedure for the determination of international protection. Now she works for UNHCR in the area of communication and external relations. She is but one of the many impressive women working for this tremendous organisation.

You can join Cristina and her talented colleagues via many exciting and important roles at UNHCR. Take a look at these current vacancies and enjoy a career that could truly make an impact.

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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