Luciano Costantino | Diversity and Inclusion Specialist — UNFPA

“An employee can thrive if the workplace is a safe-space, a safe space to express yourself”

Welcome to the UNDP career journey podcast brought to you by the talent development unit, part of the Office of Human Resources, our conversations, explore fascinating careers, and give an overview on how you can enhance your career experience through continuous learning. I am Jane and today our conversation is with Luciana Constantino, who is joining us from UNFPA, another agency from the UN system.

Welcome to the UNDP career journey podcast. Luciano, it is a pleasure to have you as our guest speaker today. Would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

“Yes, thank you very much, Jane. First of all, for inviting me, it’s a pleasure for me to be here with you today. I am Luciano Costantino, Diversity & Inclusion specialist and staff engagement at UNFPA. I joined the organisation in June. So it’s been a few months now. And I’m very excited about the roll”.

Thank you Luciano. Okay, so let’s start this conversation on your career. How did you become interested in this field?

“I have always been passionate about the Governmental Affairs. And as a child growing in a small town in the south of Italy, I always felt a strong call for justice, equal opportunities and fairness. So, I chose to study what I study as I wanted to work for the UN, every choice I made, even those that were not always easy, was for the simple reason. I wanted to do something for the world. The UN as I much appreciate is a big organisation with many specialised agencies and different mandate. So it may not always be clear to know what really interests you in the outset, right?

So let’s say I think I grew and learned to understand what interests me simply by working in different organisations and different functional areas. My current role at UNFPA, as I said, focuses on diversity and inclusion, which is something I was doing before on a voluntary basis, mostly during my free time. So, UNFPA offered me the amazing opportunity to do something I really care about. It is an organisation with such a noble and powerful mission that I feel honoured and privileged to serve there”.

Thank you so much, Luciano, that sounds very interesting to… gain passion, and so on by doing and working on your career, if you had three words to describe yourself, what would they be? And since you mentioned the UN mandates, how would these words align with the organisation?

“Three words, wow. I would say compassion, fun, and curiosity, compassion, because I believe that any HR professional, has a compassionate spirit, compassion is in our interactions in the way we serve our clients in the decisions we take. So, we always have at heart, the well being of our employees. As for fun, I think life is not all about work. So, we are all human beings made of emotions and feelings. And having fun is also what makes life worth living maybe. Lastly, curiosity, because I personally constantly challenge or question everything, and not in a bad way. I love engaging in constructive and stimulating conversations and learn something new every day, from different people with whom I interact.

So, well, regarding whether these characteristics align with organisation. What I can say is that UNFPA is an organisation that values diversity and appreciates unique personalities. So I think today, we are all great professional, experienced people. What makes us unique is how we do it”.

Okay, that’s very interestingly Luciano, as you talk about learning, one could associate also letdowns in our careers from learning experiences. What has been the biggest letdown in your career so far? And how did you deal with it?

“Let’s see. First of all, I would not call it really a letdown. Because ‘letdown’ to me sounds so disappointing, and sometimes negative, let’s call it rather a break. Some years ago, the organisation I was working for, was facing some drastic budgetary constraints. And my position, which was already quite precarious, could not be kept any longer. Therefore, I was without a job just like that. I did not see it coming, of course, and I was not prepared for it either. It just happened. I could not control it. I could not change it. That was it. So at the beginning, as you might understand, I was, of course, of course sad. Then I understood that I could use this time to do something new. So I would take this, let’s say break, like you said, this letdown as an opportunity to do something new. Being a curious person myself as a total curiosity is one of my personal characteristics, and I’m constantly looking for learning and improvement, I decided to enrol in a full time MBA programme, that ultimately was a smart career move, as it gave me also a new skill set in terms of leadership.

So in short, to answer your question, which is also very complex. I think that when a letdown comes to the way, as hard as it may sound, it is important to focus on something bigger, find your way out. I’m saying this, in retrospect, right, having known how hard he was coming back”.

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. In retrospect, yeah, we may have the chance to reflect more and more upon these kinds of experiences, you mentioned now curiosity, and also leadership as a skill you’re developing. What are other skills, abilities or other personal attributes that you can say are essential to succeed in your job or in your field?

“Yes, well, working for the UN, in this respect for diversity is for sure, flexibility, willingness to learn. So if one has these three skills, I already I think they are on the right track. In addition, I would say that it’s important to show a great degree of integrity in our daily interactions. And this is not only at work, but also in our private life. We are first and foremost international civil servants, and we have duties and obligations towards our organisation only. So everything we do, our actions and our behaviours, also in our private life, must consider the potential impact that they may have on our organisation. As per my role, specifically, I think it is also important to show respect, to have empathy and to be a good listener.

Well, these definitely sound like a very important traits. And you mentioned you were very passionated, about your field at the beginning. If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path? And if not, what would you change?

“Yes, yes, absolutely. Yes. I loved studying humanities, in high school, philosophy, arts, Latin and Greek literature, especially…, especially the mythology! It was, I think, what helped me to shape my interests in ethics and fairness, perhaps it was what inspired me the most, you know, the ancient Greeks could not define beauty without considering good. They used to call it the code of agraphia, which was about the personal conduct, it was the ideal of the complete human personality, in mind and body, I always found it so powerful. So, that after high school, I moved to Naples, in a bigger city, to study political science. And again, maybe statement from Plateau influence there too. As I wanted to know, everything about law, sociology, history, economics, to better understand the world as a document, my big mission was to do something for the world. So I thought it would be important for me to understand the theory of all the science around the world. After the my bachelor, I decided to move to France, first as an exchange student, and then for my two masters degrees, one international relations, and the second one, international law.

And looking now I think it all made sense and shaped also the person I am today, the different jobs I had, and the challenges I’ve faced and the success I celebrated. It was all part of, of course, the decisions I took back then, it all had a reason. And again, because I believe in everything that I do, and everything I do has a reason. I will not be here today with you speaking about my experience, if I’ve not done that. So even the mistakes I think were a lesson or reminder to do better next time”.

Well, that really feels like, not only a career, but life journey of yours. What would happen if you had a chance to talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell him?

“Well, I would tell him to be patient. And I say this with humility and love. In retrospect again, as I am myself a very impatient person sometimes, I think patience is an important virtue that needs to be cultivated. It comes with pausing, calming down, you mentioned reflecting before, so it is what we need. When we face a setback. It kind of help us to put things in perspective and reassess, right? It can be it can be actually a quite energising experience. That’s what it will tell me”.

Okay, certainly a very good advice. What has been something that you have found as a great resource when searching for career advancement?

“Yes. Okay, probably three key resources. The first one, I will say, resilience, which I think goes well with patience, I learned to be resilient. And also in a very difficult moment of my career, where I had no clarity, which would be my next note. The second resource, I think, is the network. So relying, on a personal experience, on other colleagues. Get in touch with your colleagues and peers and friends, try to learn from them, because probably they had a similar experience to yours, and they might give you a good piece of advice. Lastly, again, learning I’m never tired of learning, learning opportunities, and internet is an unlimited resource of learning. So I think opportunity is everything.

And once again, I am extremely proud to work for UNFPA, an organisation committed to deliver a world where among other things, every young person’s potentially is fulfilled”.

That’s awesome Luciano, I understand that learning then has been a huge, huge resource throughout your career. I would like to understand better what have been the rationale behind each of your career moves?

“Yes, sure. Well, my career at UN has pretty much been revolving around HR, the rationale behind has that HR is a very broad and diverse functional areas. However, the core function is the same, HR deals with people, it is about people. So if you look at my career, previously, I was taking care of the financial aspects of security. So I was working to provide a numerical benefit to the staff, a financial benefit, then with recruitment, I was taking care of resourcing so there was the resourcing to find more good people for the organisation. So we could all be together as colleagues, and all participate to the success of the organisation. Now, by working in HR in D&I, I’m providing the more holistic approach to the duty of care. So on one end, I ensure that our diversity inclusion lens is applied. And on the other, my role is to foster a culture of civility in the workplace, by addressing issues and removing barriers to inclusion. So again, it’s really the the core function is to take care of the people.

Yeah, so certainly, it’s been a very comprehensive role you have had in human resources. So I would like to learn more about what is the best tip or the best advice that you have received or that you would like to give today to to our audience?

“Oh, well, yes, I am not sure I can give much of advice, I can share however, what I’ve been given once as an advice, and one of the heads of an organisation I was previously working for, told me once, it is important to have fun. And again, fun I mentioned earlier is one of the elements of my personality. And I think it’s true fun is always would like a kind of spark of joy in our daily routine. And it also it also makes it different and more bearable. In addition, I think, a career and I’m talking again, about my own experience takes courage, and passion and engagement, as well as good leadership. So it’s important also to have a manager a leader who empowers you and will interest you and who who believes in you and allows you to thrive.

An employee can thrive. If the workplace is a safe space, a safe space to express yourself to speak your voice to share your ideas. You cannot have a satisfying career if you do not feel engaged and welcomed in the organisation. Therefore, it is important to work for an organisation that respects you and does not discriminate against you. An organisation that encourages you, as I said, and empowers you to fulfil your potential. For this once again, the UN is a great place to work because it has amazing opportunities, learning initiatives. And of course, respect for diversity and inclusion is at the core values of the UN.

So the piece of advice I can give is that if you don’t feel engaged in your workplace, you have to find what you’re missing for engagement. And I think every workplace should follow the UN model. And one last word, I think it’s always important to do what you like. And I feel particularly lucky and fortunate enough to work in an organisation that shares the same values as me, and probably that’s the piece of advice, do what you like and make a career out of it.

Luciano sitting and smiling for the audience.

Wow, what an amazing advice Luciano. Absolutely, thank you so much. Thank you Luciano, I also want to thank to our audience for listening. We hope that these conversations will inspire you to keep learning and advancing in your careers to access and listen this audio recording, you can visit our dedicated page from the Talent Development Hub.

Thank you so much, Luciano! My pleasure, Jane, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Thank you again, to our audience for listening and joining us today. Bye for now. Thanks!

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