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Autodesk SVP Carmel Galvin: “Focus on work-life fit, not work-life balance to create a fantastic work culture”

I suspect workforce unhappiness is caused by three factors: not feeling connected to the greater purpose of the company, not understanding how you fit into the company, and the age-old issue of burn out. We focus on work-life fit, not work-life balance. Balance suggests you’re trying to weigh work and life equally, which is not always […]


I suspect workforce unhappiness is caused by three factors: not feeling connected to the greater purpose of the company, not understanding how you fit into the company, and the age-old issue of burn out.

We focus on work-life fit, not work-life balance. Balance suggests you’re trying to weigh work and life equally, which is not always doable. Instead, it’s more realistic to think about how to adjust your work and life so that they can ebb and flow to fit together. This is a more agile approach. Smart companies figure out how to create an environment that helps employees create a work-life fit.


I had the pleasure to interview Carmel Galvin. Carmel is senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Autodesk, Inc. and is responsible for leading the company’s efforts to attract, develop and retain the best talent. In addition, Galvin oversees Corporate Real Estate, Travel, Safety and Security. Prior to joining Autodesk in 2018, Galvin was the chief human resources officer of Glassdoor where she led all people functions of the company, including human resources planning, learning & development, talent acquisition, employee relations and engagement, and more. Galvin brings 25 years of human resources experience at global companies including Deloitte, Advent Software and MSCI Barra Inc. where she developed a focus on leadership coaching, developing organizational culture and employee engagement programs. A native of Ireland, Galvin received her bachelor’s degree in political science and business from Trinity College Dublin and master’s degree in Business Studies at the University College Dublin’s Smurfit School of Business.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My master’s thesis focused on understanding why it is important for companies to create an environment where all employees feel a sense of belonging, can grow and be successful. What I found is that people need to feel connected to the company mission, aligned with the company values, and believe that their contributions matter to deliver their best work. This is how I became interested in a career in HR and what ultimately led me to Autodesk where I’ve been working to define our company culture and enable our employees to thrive and do their best work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began working at Autodesk?

It seems like every day I come to work, I hear new stories about how our software enables customers to imagine, design or make something that betters our world. Realizing the breadth of what Autodesk offers and the impact we can have on the world and then figuring out how to tell that story to attract great employees excites me.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think it will help Autodesk employees?

I joined Autodesk about a year ago and the first big initiative I undertook was to transform our company culture. Autodesk, like many other companies, had a strong culture that developed organically over the nearly 40 years we’ve been in business. But it needed to be more deliberate to prepare us for a substantial growth phase. First, we spoke with employees at all levels from Autodesk offices across the globe to get a better understanding of how employees thought of our culture and how well it supported our mission. From there, we defined our Culture Code, which includes our vision, company values and the ways we work. We hosted workshops, both in-person and virtually, to expose employees to the new Culture Code. During the next phase, we will help managers operationalize our culture through various individual and team development activities, as well as build the key elements into our talent processes. It has been an exciting journey and the feedback we’ve received has been extremely positive across the company. We are shaping this culture together in a very intentional way.

Carmel Galvin Presenting at Autodesk Design+Make in Dublin

According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I suspect workforce unhappiness is caused by three factors: not feeling connected to the greater purpose of the company, not understanding how you fit into the company, and the age-old issue of burn out.

At Autodesk we focus on work-life fit, not work-life balance. Balance suggests you’re trying to weigh work and life equally, which is not always doable. Instead, it’s more realistic to think about how to adjust your work and life so that they can ebb and flow to fit together. This is a more agile approach. Smart companies figure out how to create an environment that helps employees create a work-life fit.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Employees who are not passionate about or connected to their company won’t be able to do their best work, which will ultimately hinder the productivity and profitability for the company. I’m a firm believer that employees who feel supported throughout their professional development journey will positively impact growth for the company. If a company does not enable its employees to grow, it’s impossible for the other side of the equation to work out. I think the health and wellbeing piece is connected to performance and profitability, too. To bring your best self to work every day, you must take a holistic approach to your personal growth, which includes tending to your physical and mental well-being. This brings us back to the idea of work-life fit. Integrating health, wellbeing, work and other aspects of your life helps all of us perform at our best.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

I have three tips to improve work culture.

First, define your company’s culture and values and clearly explain how they support the mission.

Second, reinforce the company values throughout the HR process from hiring, to performance reviews, to professional development. It’s crucial to carry those values through from end-to-end to maintain consistency and clarity for employees.

Third, executives and managers need to lead by example. You are the first and best example of how your company culture should manifest.

It’s nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we need to change our thinking regarding work culture. What can we do as a society to make a broader impact on work culture in the US?

The workplace reflects society, and vice versa, so changing the way we work or what we prioritize in the workplace can affect society. I think the first step is building an inclusive community where people feel they belong. When employees can be themselves, they’re able to bring their best to the company and society.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I am inclusive, informal, collaborative, transparent and direct. I like to paint a strong vision of where we’re going and work collectively with a team to achieve that vision. I like to experience the journey, which may not always be a linear path, and give my teammates the freedom to execute on ideas. And above all, I treat others the way I want to be treated.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about how that person helped you?

I am one of four sisters and remember our dad telling us that “no matter what happens, you must support yourself financially and emotionally.” With just this one line, he empowered us to find our passions, build our careers, and not expect a handout from anyone. I have taken this advice to heart and passed it on to my children.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As an immigrant, I feel it’s very important to connect with my local community and build a support system. It can be hard moving to a new place if you don’t have family there to provide support, so over the years I’ve made a concerted effort to connect with the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco. The organization helps Irish immigrants navigate living abroad, and I’ve found that anything I give to my community is returned in spades.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that is relevant in your life?

Herminia Ibarra studied organizational behavior at Yale, taught for 13 years at Harvard and is now a professor at London Business School. I think this quote by her sums up how my life and career journey has evolved: “A successful life does not mean always knowing what you want to do before you act, but the other way around. Only by acting, experimenting, questioning and acting again do you find out who and what you are.”

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I wish more people recognized the value of taking care of their physical health and how it can impact their mental wellbeing. The two are inextricably linked, yet people struggle to prioritize their health with other competing priorities.

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