Introduction

Kevin Cavanaugh has over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources. American by birth, he is descended from Irish and Sicilian immigrants, and has lived in several different regions across the globe. He has led teams of HR professionals and practitioners in various business, from small start-ups, to global corporations such as Skype, and Fortune 100 companies including Amazon and Microsoft.

Interview

Q. When and how did you decide that Human Resources was what you wanted to specialise in?

A. I fell into it really. At university I studied sociology with an emphasis on occupational sociology. I knew I wanted to work with people and in the world of commerce, so I went with my heart and found a combination of these two key aspects – business and people – in HR.

Q. You obviously have a strong ethical focus on diversity and inclusion. Why is this such a crucial aspect in HR – firstly to you personally, and secondly, to the benefit of any business?

Personally -

HR is split into various disciplines, one of which is diversity and inclusion. As someone who has travelled all over the world and lived in various different continents, the diversity of the workplace has always fascinated me. I love seeing how people work together in cross-cultural collaboration.

Business-wise -

I’ve always been interested in the tech-side of businesses, and worked in Silicon Valley during the boom years when Apple and Google were relatively small and growing. Innovation is the cornerstone of any tech company, and you simply cannot be innovative without a diverse workforce. If you don’t have different angles by which you can view the world, you will miss the opportunity to be innovative. The classic definition of diversity concerns gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. However, in my definition of diversity, the essence is a diversity of thought. It’s human nature to want to hire people who think in a similar way to you, but if you don’t consider those who might challenge your views, you may miss an opportunity to bring in new ideas and a fresh perspective.

Q. Which professional accomplishments have meant the most to you, and really affirmed your chosen career path?

Looking back, my perspective has changed. When I was younger and starting out, I was hungry to prove myself, to demonstrate that I could do this kind of work, and have recognition. Now, however, I get the most satisfaction out of being the vehicle that helps others do what they want to do, and go where they want to go. I enjoy having a lot of influence in how a business develops and encourages its employees; I don’t need recognition anymore.

Q. During your 15 years of professional HR experience, you have worked for companies including Skype, Amazon and Microsoft, and lived in various geographical regions including North America, Latin America and Europe. Are you happy to relocate to wherever you feel the opportunity calls?

Yes, I am not a typical American in that respect! I am always coaching and counselling others never to close any door until they have explored an opportunity further. So many people, when I ask them to consider a job abroad have the instant reaction “I can’t”, and immediately put up obstacles.  But I encourage them to be open to any opportunity before they make a decision.

Q. You evidently have a very international outlook – can you explain your interest in cross-cultural work? Is it related to your own background as the grandson of Irish and Sicilian immigrants?

Definitely – I was very aware of this when I was growing up, and was always hearing my grandmother speaking Italian to my mother. I am very conscious of my heritage in terms of immigration. Neither of my siblings, on the other hand, have passports and have no desire to see anywhere else other than America – I guess I was just born with the DNA of curiosity!

Q. You have carved a successful career out of a sense of justice in diversity and inclusion – what words of encouragement would you give to those who are underrepresented and feel daunted by this?

We need to remember how lucky we are in Western countries to be in a position where we even have the choice of what job we do. In other countries, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. So my advice would be: be confident in your abilities, understand first what really gets you excited, and follow that passion – not by searching for a specific job title, but rather for the ingredients of what, for you, would make for a really good experience.

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