My upbringing in Scandinavia was all about respect, tolerance and openness. So when I moved from civil service into politics, it felt natural that I represent these values in my politics—when I was prime minister of Finland, we made gay marriage legal.
For many Europeans these days marriage equality is a no-brainer. So is equality in general, tolerance and freedom from discrimination for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or their gender identity, not to mention ethnicity or religious affiliation. We see these things as elementary.
Zero tolerance for intolerance
Nonetheless, there are still people who probably derive their values from somewhere in the past. They’re uncomfortable about LGBT+ matters. I encourage them to open up to others, to put themselves in other people’s shoes, to be tolerant.
They might respond that we need also to tolerate their intolerance – that it’s a question of freedom of speech and opinion to respect their right to take the position that it is wrong to be bisexual, transgender, or gay. There is one thing I am adamant about: I am very tolerant, but I have zero tolerance for intolerance.
Everyone is welcome to debate ideas and to challenge what someone thinks. But if you say that someone—not what they think, but who they are—is wrong, then you deny their right, essentially, to their freedom of existence. If you truly want to preserve freedom of speech, you’d better make sure your speech emancipates everyone, because only when everyone is entitled to it is speech truly free. Using a different pronoun upon request is a small price to pay.
Inside or outside the closet
Sex is a private matter, but sexual orientation might be difficult to keep in the closet. Gender identity even more so. For example, it would be complicated and strange to hide the fact that I am married to a woman. My choice to marry a woman should be as acceptable as being gay or transgender. This is the reason why it makes sense to celebrate a day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
This is also why it makes sense that there is a European Investment Bank LGBT+ group, an employee-driven network within the EU bank, and that my remit on the management committee of the Bank includes these issues. It’s why we have created strategies in the Bank for equality, diversity and inclusion.
The most important thing is that everyone should feel comfortable to be inside or outside the closet, regardless of sexual orientation. This is the working atmosphere we want to create here at the Bank.
Benefits of diversity
Diversity is beneficial for organizations. Diversification is a common risk management strategy in finance. By diversifying assets, you minimize the risk of losing everything when something happens in a certain geographical region, sector, or asset class. Diversification as a broader principle also creates value—and not only in banks. By bringing together diverse points of view, we are able to understand the world around us much better, and thus we make better decisions.
Our inclusion of the points of view of all colleagues regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, their age, nationality, or disability encourages every one of their colleagues to speak out about their diverging points of view. This can protect organisations from groupthink.
Incidentally, this is what makes the European Union such a great project. We have a great diversity of points of view across the dozens of cultures represented on this continent: gay culture, Finnish culture, Hungarian and Spanish cultures, the lifestyles of fitness and wellbeing enthusiasts, and so on.
This is why the European Union needs to continue to stand for diversity and the protection of fundamental human rights. We are doing our part by making sure that’s the case inside the European Investment Bank and also in the projects we finance.
It gives me tremendous joy to see so many businesses and organizations across Europe show that they recognize the value of diversity and inclusion. This is the day to celebrate that success, and to spur us on.