The pandemic began as a frenzied maelstrom igniting worry, chaos and confusion. As the world fell into the grip of a sinister spectre, life as we know it ground to a halt. The world of work changed overnight. Many people swapped office life for isolation, and what we craved most was connection. Technology filled that void, with LinkedIn and a myriad of peer platforms supporting a planet in peril.
Vice President, International HRBP , LinkedIn
The pandemic began as a frenzied maelstrom igniting worry, chaos and confusion. As the world fell into the grip of a sinister spectre, life as we know it ground to a halt.
Little did I know back then that a passion for ancient civilisations would ignite a lifelong love for helping people to unlock their potential. When I left university, like many people I faced a “what now?” moment. I really wasn’t sure what path to take, so I took off for Australia and was fortunate enough to travel around and take some time to think about what I wanted to do. When I returned home, I secured a job working in an administrative role at Lionbridge Technologies. Completely by accident or perhaps fate, I was seconded to a role in the HR department where I supported running an audit. This was the early 2000s when mountains of hard copy files had to be transferred onto an online HCM. I gained valuable experience working on annual performance reviews and other business-critical initiatives. This was my first taste of HR and I loved it. This experience motivated me to study for an HR Diploma at Dublin Business School. Working in the day and studying during the evening was tough at times, but it was a smart move that set me up for success. Keen to develop my skills and broaden my experience, I later left the company to join a small recruitment agency to complement my in-house HR experience. I discovered first-hand the important role that recruitment professionals play in helping companies to achieve their objectives, helping to improve their diversity strategies, succession planning, skills and pipelining. These early career experiences fuelled my passion to become an HR business partner and set the foundations for everything to come.
In 2006, I joined the cybersecurity company Symantec. I applied for a temporary position in the TA team, leaving behind a permanent role which felt risky at the time, but fortunately the decision paid off and I was made permanent within weeks. I ended up staying for over a decade. When I think back to that time, I had an incredible experience where I was challenged, given the opportunity to try new things and make an impact – all the things that anyone could possibly want from a job. This feeling has stayed with me ever since and for that I feel immense gratitude to the HR leadership team at Symantec. I moved from TA, to an HR business partner role, then into a commercial role, before moving again into a global HR business partner role. This diversity of experience taught me the importance of stretching people out of their comfort zone and offering opportunities to continuously grow and develop. Internal mobility is crucial to employee engagement and skills development, and there is tremendous benefit to businesses too. I later took on the Asia Pacific region as part of my remit, where I regularly travelled to, Singapore, China, Japan and Korea. Perhaps it stems back to my passion for classical studies, but I have a deep fascination with different cultures, so this opportunity was a dream for me. I loved building relationships with teams in different countries and developing my understanding of cultures and local nuances. It was a period of growth and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to experience working in a different country to do so.
During my decade with Symantec, I benefited from a breadth of experiences including navigating the complexities of mergers and acquisitions and divestitures, as well as experiencing the full talent lifecycle and developing my business acumen. Eventually, Symantec sold the Veritas business and I saw an opportunity to gain a new experience. I spoke to the CHRO of Veritas, Norma Olmos, and she invited me to interview for an HR Director role and I was successful. It was an exciting time as the company worked through defining its values and culture I wrote policies from scratch, helped define the organisation’s structure and culture, and navigated the company through significant change. Then in 2016, I was contacted by an executive recruiter about a role at LinkedIn and I didn’t hesitate. At my initial interview, the authenticity of the people was so compelling and I felt like I gelled with everyone I spoke to. I could clearly see this was a truly people-first company, where talent thrives and that is only possible when HR has a seat at the table. I went through a rigorous interview process and joined as HR Director for EMEA. Five and a half years have flown by and I’m proud to have recently been appointed to Vice President of International HR Business Partners, working across EMEA, LATAM and APAC. Looking back, some of the best advice I received then was from Mike Derezin, who was VP of LinkedIn’s Learning Solutions business. He advised me to take time to meet and talk to as many people as possible across the organisation, to really understand LinkedIn’s culture and values and so I did. One particular conversation really stuck with me, an executive recruiter said that the main objective of bringing people into LinkedIn is to transform them as a professional. I have experienced this first-hand and I feel like a totally different person since joining and for the better.
Yes, obviously this information could not be divulged to a potential joiner, so when I was serving my notice at Symantec, it came as a surprise and I wondered, what does this mean for me? Our then HR leader rang me after the news was out and allayed any concerns. To this day, LinkedIn has maintained its autonomy and unique culture. We have our own CEO, executive staff and Chief People Officer, as well as a distinct vision, which is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. It’s our true north star and that’s what we aspire to do every day. The business continues to go from strength to strength, we have over three-quarters of a billion members and 130 new members sign up to join LinkedIn per minute. We’re now a $10 billion company with more than 16,000 employees globally and almost 3,000 in EMEA and LATAM. Our Dublin office – which is our European HQ – is a brand new, state-of-the-art building and we’re about to open another new building soon. We’ve also been recognised as one of Ireland’s top ten employers by the Sunday Independent and Statista.
We know everyone has navigated the pandemic differently and we’ve been there every step of the way with our employees to help them adapt. From an HR perspective, we’ve achieved some of our most innovative work during the past 18 months. Our entire executive staff put real thought and care into how we could be innovative to drive maximum value to employees and we’ve shifted resources to do so. We did this with intention, innovation and an employee-first approach. We created ‘LiftUp!’ – an initiative designed to support employees and managers during the extended work from home period during the pandemic. The programme included mental health resources, meeting free days, half day Fridays during July and August 2021 and creating surprise and delight moments, such as a paid week off for the entire company during April 2021. This was important to show our gratitude for everything our employees have done during this challenging time and to ensure they had time to take care of themselves. The great thing about the entire company taking a break at the same time means that no one came back to an avalanche of internal emails, so the benefits of having downtime lasts that bit longer. I think that before the pandemic, for many, the foot was fully on the accelerator. But now we’ve had a chance to really contemplate the importance of work/life balance, the impact of stress and work-related mental health needs. These considerations need to be at the core of the future of work and it is our collective responsibility to rebuild businesses in more thoughtful and compassionate ways.
We’re currently going through a hiring surge and I’m working closely with our talent acquisition leader to build out the TA team, because the hunt for talent is a continuous one. We’re investing in the HR team to develop future-critical skills to meet the challenges of the workforce changes that are happening around us. Sometimes businesses forget that and forge ahead channeling all their energies and resources into revenue generation. This can hollow out the infrastructure of the organisation which is when things start to fail. Unless investment is channeled into core functions as the business expands, the feel-good glow soon diminishes. Another priority is our employee value proposition (EVP). I believe ours is pretty crisp, but you can never be complacent. Culture is part of our competitive advantage and we are constantly finetuning what brings us together as an organisation and how we make decisions. Our values are part and parcel of who we are and we want those to resonate through the organisation and beyond.
In this respect, by far the most powerful ambassadors of your brand are your employees and what they say presents a true and indelible picture of your business. There’s no question that unfiltered and authentic advocacy is priceless in terms of employer brand. Of course, if you hit the high notes there’s always that pressure to sustain them and that’s where HR has to be innovative and take a critical look at the status quo.
Of that there is no question and now comes the nittygritty of turning visions and expectations of the future into practical reality. Ultimately, success will be predicated on mutual trust. At LinkedIn, we’re not making any stipulations about home/ office ratios. We’re taking a simple, but massively powerful approach to how we work – we trust each other to do our best work where it works best for us and our teams. We’ve learned that every individual and every team works differently and so we’ll be embracing flexibility, with both hybrid and remote work, expecting more of us to be remote than pre-COVID. It’s a coming of age whereby we recognise the resilience and commitment of our employees as they’ve adapted over the past 18 months. They proved that they want to fulfill their responsibilities and do their best work. We’ll also continue to create amazing office experiences for everyday work and the times when we do come together. We’re embracing a growth mindset to learn together and adjust as we go. The pandemic has shone a light on how diverse people’s situations are and we need to be mindful about how that relates to the future. Set-in-stone policies are likely to be counterproductive and that means relationships with colleagues and managers will take on a new meaning, to ensure everyone’s situations are accounted for and supported. If I think about myself, I used to be in the office five days a week pre-pandemic and I’d often travel to our different offices and I never worked from home. Now, the prospect of going back full-time is actually quite daunting. I’m expecting my first baby in the new year and my dog is very much used to me being here – he’s sitting at my feet all day. The fact that it took a pandemic to instigate such a huge change is ironic, particularly when you think that we’ve all been talking about work/life balance for years, with no real movement on the dial and an awful lot of burnout and work-related mental health impact. Trust was tested during the pandemic, but the results have been staggering.
Totally, not just technology, but data has been so integral for HR managing a distributed workforce. I believe the profession really needs to be accredited in data management, like our colleagues in finance are accredited. It’s an essential element of being an HR professional. We have some incredibly powerful tools at our disposal and it is data that informs so compellingly in the boardroom and has been crucial for so many businesses to continue operating during the pandemic.
I’m optimistic that we won’t be going back to “business as usual” and that’s a good thing for people and businesses. We’re collectively experiencing the “Great Reshuffle”, this moment of unprecedented change, where companies are rethinking their entire working models, culture and values and employees are considering what they want from work. It’s liberating that work can be different and the onus is on us to design it so that it can work better for everyone. According to our own research, nearly half of businesses across EMEA are moving to hybrid working and 84 percent of leaders are planning to introduce training courses to help employees adapt to this new reality. Around half of C-level executives believe the changes made now are for the long-term, which is positive to see. In the midst of global transformation, we see a unique opportunity and responsibility to help employers and employees navigate these changes in ways that lead to more equitable outcomes, as well as a more dynamic global economy.
I believe that we will all definitely need to prepare for some challenging times ahead. There is no rulebook to navigate this change, but if we adopt a growth mindset and adjust as we go, I’m confident that we’ll find the right path forward. Adapting is going to be crucial for businesses. Those that have failed to adapt their product or service in time – they quickly became history – and the same fate will befall those that fail to adapt well and at speed when it comes to progresive workplace policies. Offering employees greater flexibility gives businesses the opportunity to dramatically expand their talent pools as the traditional interdependencies between location and role are no longer as relevant. It now seems inevitable that many people will have greater flexibility when it comes to where they work, so people can spend more time doing the things they want with the people they love. These changes will also provide working parents who may be looking for flexible hours, or people with care-giving responsibilities, a broader spectrum of opportunities.
I think initially some companies underestimated the enormous impact the pandemic would have. Indeed, attrition numbers at many companies are through the roof right now, so it’s more important than ever for organisations to truly think about the long-term and create a better future for their employees and business. The good news is that most are now doing this.
We talk a lot about diversity, inclusion and belonging at LinkedIn. I think many organisations are primarily focusing on hiring diverse talent, only to find that they are attritioning more quickly than they are able to attract. That’s because, despite the employer brand promise, the veneer quickly peels away, because the company may not have created an environment where people feel included and that they belong. It’s about that full holistic picture of, how do you create an environment where diverse talent can feel confident and comfortable to do their best work. We know now, unequivocally, that diversity leads to better business outcomes, it’s a competitive advantage that cannot be ignored. We have a different strategy depending on the country, because obviously, each country has a different makeup. We look at census data and decide upon what kind of programmes and policies we need to enable people to have equal support and opportunity. We’re 50:50 from a gender perspective across LinkedIn and we measure that by level on a monthly basis. We’re certainly seeing an irreversible sea change in how organisations are thinking about diversity. The ultimate goal is for diversity, inclusion and equality to be organic. But to make that happen, our generation has to continue with a strategy that advocates and supports equality and diversity, developing role models that shine out to inspire younger generations. We also believe that companies need to rethink the way they hire, to broaden their talent pools of diverse candidates. Skills-based hiring is crucial – where companies assess candidates on their skills and future potential – not just their previous direct experience and formal qualifications. In fact, LinkedIn has committed to helping 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire by the end of the year.
Younger generations coming through now expect diversity. They don’t expect to be sitting beside somebody who went to the same school as them, who sounds like them, who looks like them. The internet generation is often criticised, but being exposed to unfiltered content from every corner has enabled them to make informed decisions and opened them up to diversity in a way that older generations were not. We have to over-index, over-emphasise and be unremitting champions for equality, diversity and inclusion. LinkedIn’s initiatives such as our “hide names and photos” feature can help companies reduce bias when searching for candidates. We recently introduced job titles for stay-at-home parents, so if you’re on maternity or paternity leave, or if you decide to take a step out of the workplace and raise a family, you’re now able to select that as a career, which I think is great. We also ran a programme called ‘ReturnIn’ which was specifically about, how do we bring people back to the workplace who may have taken a couple of years out? How do we give them that confidence? Because obviously raising a family is still a massive contribution and this is a great example of empowering people and really thinking about equity. I think that’s my bottom line – equity for job seekers, equity for people who are interested in progressing their careers and being conscious of our place in the world.
Unquestionably, but it’s a very different brand of leadership on all counts and again, you cannot leave this to chance. We have in-house learning programmes, because our managers genuinely want to learn how to be better, more inclusive leaders. We roleplay, we call upon experts and we support with foundational education, which particularly helps new managers to be thinking on the right lines as soon as they become a part of LinkedIn. Bias and favouritism are natural human traits, but can quickly lead to unacceptable and toxic outcomes. We acknowledge that inclusive workplaces can only become the norm in the future through the policies and values that we support today. Each new generation presents themselves to employers and will have a different set of experiences, mindset and expectations. I think grouping people is counterproductive – what we’re focusing on is creating an equitable environment for all and that begins with treating everyone as an individual. Before the pandemic, the first question that people asked was usually what our flexible working policies are. Now, the focus has shifted to how much autonomy there is and what does diversity and equity mean at LinkedIn? That says to me that mindset and expectations are radically shifting and we have to be ready to accommodate that.
This isn’t something that we can leave to chance. Stereotypes in society are deeply entrenched, but mindsets are definitely changing. Nevertheless, bias is a natural human instinct and that’s why we continue to support change through education and awareness. I feel incredibly proud that I am one of three female Vice Presidents across our region and we have three male Vice Presidents. We need to keep that determined focus on gender balance, until the day that we no longer have to. It is a huge testament to the work that we have done over the last few years, but it’s not easy and we need to be determined. Equally, this cannot descend into tokenism – if it comes to the point when a hiring manager has to choose a female to make up numbers, then that is the road to nowhere.
There will be continued disruption, confusion and a lot of grey area. My goal for the next six months is to create a rhythm whereby our offices are open for business, where people can start to find themselves and understand what will work for them. Again, that’s about the opportunity for people to do their best work, either in person together for something collaborative, or at home by themselves, or in a virtual environment. I also think that wellness will be central to our work. We recently ran a survey internally and we saw that mental health continues to be something that our employees are becoming more comfortable sharing. As people feel confident, then that taboo will be lifted and will undoubtedly lead to improved and sustainable support, understanding and outcomes. We are looking at our policies and making sure that they are fit for purpose and calibrated to bring balance and surety during these changeable and volatile times. Our objective is to continue to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce, not just those who happen to be connected to the right people. Creating more diverse, inclusive workplaces, where employees feel that they truly belong, is the finest example of ROI.
I’m convinced that the more we do to develop and support values within our organisation around diversity and inclusion – and support people as individuals – the more that radiates across to the millions of people who use LinkedIn. For me, that seems like the way to go! As we find our way through these unpredictable times, connectivity will be a fundamental force for good. Companies that have a true vision and mission of purpose, I believe, will do very well out of this challenging time. Personally, I’m really excited to be able to take advantage of our maternity leave policy as I’m going to take a full year out – I want to set a good example – and I was determined to develop a policy and programme that meant that women don’t feel pressured to rush back, because they’re worried that their job, the company and colleagues have moved on. That’s not the organisation that we want to stand for. We want to encourage people to live full whole lives and for many having children is part of that. When we hire great people, we must take into account life events and that informs succession planning.
When COVID-19 first hit, I reflected on how little we knew and how unprepared we all were. Initially, we wondered what the cost and liability would be if we shut the offices down for a month. But as the full implications began to emerge, I was impressed by how HR performed as a supportive partnership across the business. As an HR professional, in times of crisis, you have to know what your leaders are thinking, you have to be able to influence them and you have to speak up. You have a duty of care to your employees and you need to own your voice in that room and know that you’re there to represent the people that work in your organisation. I think that’s incredibly important. You have to be calm, because employees pick up on any sense of fear or confusion. We owe it to people to stand fast and hold steady and we need to lead with compassion and recognise that there are people in a myriad of different situations and that requires a balance of agility, pragmatism and innovation to support people at every step. No question, it’s been a challenging time, but it has galvanised my belief in HR as a profession, in the stoicism of people to carry on and I have learnt a lot about myself. It’s been said many times, but it’s a great time to be in HR.