For this month’s In conversation series we get to know Jenny Kavanagh, Global Impact Director at Workday. Jenny has a wealth of experience in marketing, communications, events and ultimately her biggest passion CSR!
Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company
My role is Global Impact Director at Workday, with responsibility for EMEA (Europe Middle East & Africa). I joined Workday in July 2019 where I’m leading employee community engagement (which we call Giving & Doing), employee wellbeing and environmental sustainability programs.
Another key focus for me is the creation of workforce development programs that will provide job opportunities to people facing barriers to thriving-wage employment. Already established in Workday in the US, we call this our Opportunity Onramps movement, which is dedicated to creating economic opportunity for all. It’s based on the premise that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not; this may be due to a person’s non-traditional path to education, financial constraints, or diverse work history. Our ambition is to close the opportunity gap, to transform lives by creating career pathways that unleash human potential.
What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR/sustainability field?
I took something of a non-traditional route to the workplace, working in a host of admin roles while I studied Business & Marketing by night. By the time I graduated in the mid 90’s I had my heart set on securing a role in marketing. At the time, those roles were few and far between; I joined Bank of Ireland in 1998 in a communications role, but I also found CSR! From the beginning of my career in the Bank, I was involved in fundraising initiatives and came to realize that my marketing, and event management skills were hugely beneficial in supporting CSR programs. Throughout my 14 years in the Bank I was involved in fundraising and community initiatives, which gave me such immense satisfaction, and where I felt I could add value.
In my next role as Internal Communications Manager in Microsoft, I once again found myself drawn to their Community Affairs programs, where I provided communications support. It was during this time that I realized my passion for CSR; I saw first-hand the impact that an organization could make, with the power of passionate people, giving back to the causes they cared about most. The sense of purpose that working in CSR gives me became my north star, so I pursued a more strategic CSR role, where I’d have the opportunity to focus on creating social impact and helping employees connect their sense of purpose. I found that in my next role in Fidelity Investments, where I led Internal & External Communications, Events & CSR. It was in this role that I got to shape the strategy for Fidelity Cares in Ireland, the company’s CSR program and build the responsible business framework there. My skills and experience in communications, events management and PR has served me well in the CSR work that I do, as so much is intertwined with building networks and communities of like-minded people, engaging with employees to understand how they want to give back, and of course storytelling.
Moving to my role Workday, I feel incredibly privileged to be a position where my entire focus is on developing and supporting CSR programs that can make long-term, sustainable social impact and helping our employees to give back to the causes that matter most to them.
How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?
Workday was founded in 2005, and from the very beginning, we’ve been dedicated to making a difference in the communities where we live and work. With our employee-first culture, we enable employees to make an impact to the causes that are closest to their hearts. As our global footprint has grown significantly in the past 5 years, we’ve evolved our CSR operating model to maximise employee participation. Our strategy is focussed on philanthropic investments in community organizations, Giving & Doing programmes that provide volunteering opportunities that make it easy for our employees to get involved, and through our matching funds programme, they can significantly increase their contributions to the charities they care most about. Employee wellbeing and sustainability are also core pillars within our CSR operating model known as Global Impact. We’ve created a volunteer model known as our “Local Leaders Program” to support our signature events throughout the year, helping us to achieve our mission of “doing good, feeling good and having fun”!
Through the Workday Foundation, and our Opportunity Onramps movement we focus on workforce development programs that provide job opportunities to people facing barriers to thriving-wage employment,
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
A core challenge for most organizations is shifting long-established patterns of behaviour around the changes we all need to make to contribute to a more sustainable way of living, both in and out of the workplace. The key to that challenge is through ongoing education of the impact our choices and behaviours are having on our environment. In support of this, we have created a highly effective global Green Team program where passionate volunteer champions lead education and awareness initiatives, inspiring employees to get involved and help implement beneficial environmental solutions across Workday operations.
I remain inspired by our environmental focus which is on reducing our carbon footprint and investing in renewable energy programs to provide all of our global customers with a carbon-neutral cloud. In 2018, we signed the first-ever small buyer aggregate virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) in partnership with other corporate sustainability leaders. We achieved 100-percent renewable electricity for the first time in FY19, and we’re continuing our work to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2021. To magnify our impact we’re engaging in strategic collaborative efforts with a focus on promoting renewable energy, data centre sustainability, and a decarbonized economy.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
Becoming a mother is by far my biggest and proudest accomplishment; I have two teenage children, Emma and Ciaran and every day I learn something from them. They challenge me to see the world through their eyes, and to want to do better and be better. To see them develop into kind, compassionate and socially aware people is a tremendous source of pride and inspiration to me.
What is your motto in life?
I truly believe in the power of kindness, and that extraordinary things happen when we practice kindness. This quote from Amelia Earhart is one that inspires me “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
What would a perfect day entail for you?
A perfect day for me would be on a city break, exploring and learn about the culture, architecture, art, people, food and what’s unique or special about that city. In this past year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to explore Paris, Amsterdam and New York with my children, and to see all that those cities have to offer, and experience them through their eyes, has been so special and memorable.