Pioneer Profile: Meet Hilary Callaghan

19th Feb 2024

It’s time that we recognise the people behind the evolving world of work. Our working lives have shifted to being more inclusive, more people-centric, more flexible, and just plain better for both employees and companies. 

These changes didn’t just happen: they were put into place and upheld by individuals and teams working to create a better working future for everyone. 

So we’re finally putting the spotlight on the people who make great companies great: the people-people.  

People-people are crucial to the success of every company. They find you the talent that drives you forwards, and they’ve taken on an increasingly strategic role in the past few years – often taking on responsibility for mental health, diversity and inclusion, culture, EVPs, Employer Branding and team happiness. 

Read more about the Pioneers List and go behind the scenes to understand how and why we’ve selected our Pioneers.

We’re delighted to introduce you to Hilary Callaghan, Founder of HRebel, and one of our 2024 Pioneers. Read on to hear all about their career, their experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and their hopes for the future of work.

Let’s dig in! 

Tell us a little bit about your career history, and how you got to where you are now. What were the key milestones?

My career has been somewhat of a rollercoaster, an experience I’ve come to know resonates with many other neurodivergent folk. I started in bookkeeping, before moving into TA and People Projects. I’ve accomplished amazing things for large corporates, tiny startups, and everything in between. Some notable names on my journey include HOOQ, Subly, Optus/Singtel, Rokt, and most recently Canva. Additionally I sit on the board nominations committee for YWCA (a charity focussed on women’s housing and homelessness) and was previously the chair of the board for Disability Justice Australia.

Unlike many other great recruiters, I didn't fall into recruitment, I deliberately sought it out, discovering fulfilment in helping people find the right match and seeing them thrive. My journey in recruitment began as a researcher and sourcer in Executive Search, and then swiftly moving to internal recruitment where I could establish long-term connections and engage in larger-scale people projects.

I love big problems and crafting simple solutions. While I still remain closely involved in recruitment execution, I've also spearheaded initiatives such as building Employee Value Propositions (EVPs), developing technical solutions including coding dashboards and tracking systems, and engaging in my favourite area – inclusion projects. Witnessing the potential for numerous positive changes in the people space, I am driven to contribute to making it a great environment for everyone.

When did you become interested in flexible working, EVPs, Employer Brand, and the future of work?

I really started my advocacy for remote work in 2016, however, it’s something I’ve thought about since I was young. I was 14 when my sister was born, my Mum worked remotely, it was exactly what she needed, because soon after my sister was diagnosed with the most severe kind of cerebral palsy. Mum, a programmer, kept working remotely hitting all her targets, then the company changed policy and she couldn’t work remotely any more. Our tiny family, me, my sister and mum, were forever changed, we lost everything. Mum never had paid work again, tech missed out, and our family missed out too. 

I strive for radical change in workplaces so no one gets left behind. Everyone should be able to work and feel comfortable working if they want to. 

What is the most impactful change that you’ve implemented?

My day-to-day is often on the attraction and assessment side of the people space. Last year at Canva I worked on inclusive interviewing, inclusive sourcing, and the inclusive language guides for Canva, however,  I’m most proud of starting Non-Binary Club, and trans peer support initiatives. The Non-Binary club grew from a small group chat to a thriving support group. These are important to me because they were initiatives built by trans people for trans people, not something for marketing.

What’s the biggest impact flexible working has had on your own life?

Remote work saves lives, it’s certainly saved mine. Being disabled meant I didn’t have a choice about becoming interested in flexible work, I am physically disabled, hard of hearing, autistic, and have ADHD. Flexible and remote work is a critical access requirement. 

Without it I wouldn’t be able to work, support my healthcare needs, support my family, or have the energy for life outside work. 

What's the biggest challenge of being in your role right now?

Absolutely everyone should be able to work and feel comfortable working if they want to. For inclusion and access for marginalised people, I believe we should be prioritising, centering and elevating lived experience. 

The attraction of diverse candidates is not where radical inclusion will happen, despite this being where many companies start their DEI journeys. Many companies don’t connect their attraction strategy with a holistic equity and inclusion process for the new employees they’re attracting. 

A recent study in Australia (which mirrors stats I can find for many other countries) shows that around one in seven employees have a disability, so those people are already working for companies, however,  40% avoid disclosing and asking for support or adjustments, and 30% have a negative experience post disclosure.

Companies must reprioritise to ensure the adequate support, safety, and inclusion of disabled people.  I see similar patterns across other marginalised identities too. 

I believe the ongoing challenge for talent acquisition is balancing aspirational diversity goals with authentic inclusion and accessibility experiences. Selling is critical in any TA role, but selling authentically ensures you’re not setting people, especially marginalised people, up for disappointment or harm is important. I think TA leaders must push back on TA being the foundation of any diversity goals, build it and they will come, build something inclusive and accessible then a vibrant group of people will knock your door down. 

For executives I think the biggest challenge is data, especially in workplace experience, the loudest voices shouldn’t always be your focus. If you want marginalised people to thrive in your business you must listen, trust and fight for them, if you won’t, who will?

What do you think the next big trend is in working culture?

Universal Design - applied to ways of working, that is the purposeful design of processes, policy and experience so that it is equitable for all identities and abilities. 

Take a look at the other Pioneers who made the list, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on new Pioneers, guides to help you navigate your strategic role, and exclusive invites to webinars and events