Embracing change and fostering diversity: my experience at the Generation Barents event 2023

I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the Generation Barents 2023 event in Joensuu, and I must say, it was an experience that left me genuinely thrilled. What made it even more special was the honour of being invited as a panellist—a first in my entire life! As I stood there, sharing my thoughts and experiences, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in being a part of such a vibrant and dynamic community.

The panel discussion theme was about attraction factors of the Barents region and what can they offer to attract new people and retain talents in the region. I was invited as international student representative from the University of Eastern Finland.

Doctoral Researcher Shaohui Zhang participating the Barents Generation event 2023.
Photo: Generation Barents 2023

I shared some of the unique aspects of living in Joensuu, a city with its picturesque landscapes. It is also a place that values outdoor activities, particularly the easy access to cross-country skiing places that are a paradise for winter enthusiasts like myself. The city boasts beautiful hiking regions with numerous lakes and islands, inviting individuals to explore nature’s wonders right at their doorstep. Additionally, the abundance of sports facilities caters to a variety of interests that help to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

Amid the enthusiasm, I also took the opportunity to raise some concerns during the panel discussion. One of the key points I emphasized was the need for more job opportunities in English. While Joensuu has much to offer, attracting and retaining young talents still needs to minimise the language barriers in the professional field. I believe creating an environment where non-native speakers can thrive in their careers will undoubtedly contribute to the city’s growth and diversity.

The Generation Barents event served as a platform to exchange ideas and perspectives, fostering a sense of unity and collaboration among the attendees. It was heartening to see individuals from various walks of life coming together to get to know each other, and collectively stressed important topics associated with the Barents region that require collective attention and effort.

As I reflect on this unique experience, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue surrounding the growth and development of Joensuu and the Barents region. Being a panellist allowed me to not only share my own experiences but also to listen and learn from others. I would have to say that the Generation Barents event was more than just a gathering; it was a celebration of diversity, ideas, and a shared vision for the future of the Barents region!

Shaohui Zhang
Doctoral Researcher
School of Forest Sciences, University of Eastern Finland

Equality, Staff Diversity and Pride

In its strategy, the University of Eastern Finland is committed to promoting diversity. This is not just a matter choosing our values, but having a diverse staff will promote the implementation of our strategy on a larger scale. Various studies show that groups formed by people with different backgrounds and orientations are more innovative than homogeneous groups. For a university that generates new knowledge and seeks to solve global challenges, it is important to increase diversity.

This requires that various minorities are also included in our human resources policy and in the activities of our units. When we recruit new employees, we want to find the best candidates regardless of their gender, nationality or sexual orientation. A university that is open, tolerant and constantly expanding its recruitment pool is a university that will best succeed in its core mission.

The Constitution of Finland defines equality as a basic right, and this right plays a key role in our activities. Equality means that everyone is equal regardless of their gender, age, ethnic or national origin, nationality, religious conviction or sexual orientation – just to pick a few examples.

In a just society, these kinds of personal characteristics should not affect people’s opportunities to access education or services, or to secure employment. In a liberal democracy, everyone can, within the framework of the law, pursue their dreams and become the person they feel they were meant to be.

In the world of work, labour legislation supplements equality. In workplaces, the main focus is on work, and the employer’s right of direction is recorded in law. Otherwise, people get to be who they are, and everyone must be treated with respect in the workplace. The equal rights of people must be safeguarded as required by legislation, collective agreements and equal treatment of employees in similar positions.  In workplaces, people may not be discriminated against on the basis of their age, gender, ethnic background and sexual orientation, and these may not affect recruitment decisions, terms of employment contracts, or how people are treated at work. In job interviews, it is against the law to ask about things that are not pertinent to the position. A person’s private life, such as his or her sexual orientation, is not something that concerns the employer. However, should an employee be harassed or bullied at work because of his or her sexual orientation, supervisors are required to address the matter.

I’m wishing everyone a great Pride Week!

With hopes of increasing equality diversity,

Jouni Kekäle

Chair of UEF’s Equality and Equal Opportunities Committee

Human Resources Director