5QW with Deel’s Head of Communications, Elisabeth Diana

Elisabeth Diana

This week we are back for our fifth episode of 5QW with Elisabeth Diana, Head of Communications at Deel.

After speaking with her about the power of real talk in communications, we asked Diana if she would be interested in diving deeper into her MBA and journey during the Great Recession and beyond. We asked about what drives her as a professional and manager, why she elected to pursue her MBA, and how she puts her hand up for exciting opportunities and learning moments while encouraging her team to do the same.

The idea of the Five Questions with… or 5QW podcast series is to bring you quick conversations with MBA women who have reached the C-suite and upper echelons of leadership. We know and are inspired by their many achievements, their resumes and book of work, the accolades they’ve received… what this series aims to deliver is an inside look, a pulling-back-of-the-curtain to find out what drives them, how they lead, what they believe has been key to their success, and, of course, what the investment in the MBA meant to them, now that they’re on the other side.

Elisabeth Diana, Head of Communications, Deel

In this episode, we discuss Diana’s MBA and professional journey, the importance of being open and flexible to opportunities and learning as you drive your career, in good times and in uncertain ones. She describes her earlier years helping small businesses and large brands know about Facebook advertising and the power of building community and achieving the end goal when faced with a challenge or new opportunity. She offers some great insights into putting her own hand up to explore a new area that also enabled her to travel and support a global small business community while building something new. This conversation was so fun and you’ll certainly appreciate the stories of people who inspired and lifted her up along the way — take a listen and we’ll reconnect with you in the new year!

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If you’d like to watch the full video interview, log into MBAchic and click the image below.

Elisabeth Diana, Head of Communications, Deel

Elisabeth Diana’s Bio

Elisabeth Diana is Head of Communications at HR company Deel, where she leads a global team focused on media, executive engagement, policy, product, consumer and corporate communications. Prior to Deel, Elisabeth was VP of Communications at Instagram, and before that, VP of Monetization Communications at Facebook.

She started her career in PR and advertising, working at advertising agency Publicis & Hal Riney as a brand strategist, and at Google in the global communications and public affairs group.

Elisabeth holds an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and a BA from Stanford University. She lives with her husband and son in Northern California.

Transcript

Elisabeth Diana:
Don’t be rigid in: “this is what I have to do. And if I don’t do it, everything falls apart.” I think be open to your career being more of a winding path, maybe a bit of a maze at some times.

Jeneta Hot:
Hello everyone, and thank you for tuning in. Welcome to Five Questions With. Our series of quick interviews with industry leaders, change makers, and those who inspire our community. We’re talking professional journeys and about investing in your education and career and self with those who have been in our shoes. I’m Jeneta Hot, Founder of MBAchic, a platform and community for MBAs and professionals around the world. We help navigate business school, careers and more with the goal of propelling more women into the C-suite.

We’re here today with Elisabeth Diana, Head of Communications of Deel. She has a background in advertising, marketing, and public relations, and, if you’ve read our interview with her about the power of real talk and communication, you know she’s worked in a number of spaces, including some of the most important tech firms of today. Prior to her current role, she served as director of Instagram Communications and director of Corporate Communications at Facebook, overseeing business PR for the company. Elisabeth also worked at advertising agency, Publicis & Hal Riney as a brand strategist, and at Google in the global communications and public affairs group. Elisabeth holds an MBA from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and a BA from Stanford University. Thank you so much for being here, Elisabeth. I’m so excited to get into these questions with you.

Elisabeth Diana:
Thanks, Jeneta. It’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jeneta Hot:
Of course. Thank you. Absolutely. All right. First up, this is MBAchic. So let’s dive right into your bschool years with question one. What drew you to the MBA? What did the MBA mean to you? The investment in yourself and your career, now that you’re on the other side?

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. What drew me is I knew I wanted to make a career switch. I was in advertising, I really loved advertising, and I loved the clients we served. A lot of them were very familiar with marketing and quant and analytics, and they used that rigor to apply to the business strategy around our advertising. And I knew I wanted to do what they were doing, and so I wanted to make the jump to marketing and marketing strategy. I knew I needed more analytics acumen, and I needed business strategy acumen and even some finance background.

So I thought that the MBA would be good, applied to Haas. Thankfully, they accepted me. I really loved the size of Haas. It was a smaller community, and what did the MBA mean to me? I mean, it meant a lot of things. I think the things that jump out are the networking. I mean, the classes of course were great, and I learned a lot. I would say the thing that I remember the most are the people and the network. I take from that. I’m still in great touch with many of them, but also just for job career opportunities, we’ve all been really helpful to each other.

I think the second thing that I would say I took away was I was in my twenties. I was a woman, and I think probably a lot of women can relate. When you are out of college, you’re like, “Wow. The world is my oyster.” And then you start looking for a job and you realize you’re at a bit of a confidence deficit. I feel like you’re not sure of yourself. At least that was the way I felt, and the MBA gave me the tools to really feel more confident in my abilities, public speaking, knowing the data, able to strategize and analyze better. I felt like I walked away with a lot more confidence going into my next career.

Jeneta Hot:
Wow. Yeah. We often hear that, where it gives you that confidence to command of what you know, but also confidence to be bold and drive your career. That’s amazing. Okay. You’ve had some amazing roles running communications oftentimes through a policy lens for some of the most impactful, important organizations of today, Google and Alphabet, Instagram and Meta, and now you’re at Deel transforming the future of work. Did you always have this path in mind for yourself? From your MBA days or even before to today, what did your path to the C-suite look like?

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. I mean, I definitely didn’t have a path in mind. I’m sure a lot of people on their business school applications, even their college applications write their path, and that’s great and everyone should have goals, but it definitely changed for me. I think I wanted to go into marketing, as I mentioned, and then actually in the summer between my first and second year of business school, I went to LA and did film marketing and realized that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Then the recession hit and Google was hiring, thankfully but they were hiring in a role that was adjacent to what I had been doing before, which was advertising, but not marketing. It was PR. It was policy, public affairs, and I fell in love with it.

The takeaway for me is, don’t be rigid in: “this is what I have to do, and if I don’t do it, everything falls apart.” I think be open to your career being more of a winding path, maybe a bit of a maze at some times, but be really open. I think the things that I found that are the threads throughout my career that has propelled me or maybe motivated me to look beyond what I’m doing to the next thing have been the people. So I followed my boss from Google to Facebook. He was a huge mentor to me. I just knew that if he was there and he was enjoying the work, that I would have a fulfilling career and a lot of people around him that would support me, and I thought that was really important to me. So that was a big decision. So the people that really push you and mentor you and get the best out of you, I think is a really important thing to look for me at least.

And then the second thing I would say is just the learning mindset. When I graduated from business school, Google was really interesting, even though it wasn’t marketing, because it was about online advertising, and I thought that was really interesting. I didn’t know a ton about online advertising and search ads. And so I was like, “You know what? I’m going to learn something here that I will carry through to the next thing.” I knew that online advertising wasn’t going away and then going to Facebook, it was social. Social media, wow. Don’t know a lot about that. That feels like a part of the future. I’d love to learn more about that.

And then with Deel, I didn’t know a ton about HR. I knew it was something that was complex and changing, especially with COVID. So I thought, this is something that’s evolving and something that would be really interesting and propel me again into the next thing because it’s something I’m learning. So always having that learning mindset plus the people, I would say, are the two things that have determined my career path, if you want to call it a path.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah, absolutely. That’s fantastic. And we’re getting into our next bulky question where we tap into, but I think you saying it wasn’t a crafted path or a map that you had laid out for yourself, that openness and the fact that you were in business school during the Recession, I think really certainly resonates with a lot of us right now, or many in our audience who are in your shoes. But also, yeah, things unfold, you have no idea what magic is going to open things up for you in good times and uncertain ones.

Elisabeth Diana:
Someone told me the other day, some of the biggest companies that are in terms of market cap and just success, grew out of the period in the recession from 2010 or I think it was like 2006 to 2015 or whatever it was. But during a recession, some of the biggest companies right now have grown out of that, at least in tech. And I thought that was really interesting, that even in lean times, it maybe focuses a bit more. It helps you prioritize. It allows you to be more flexible and more open to things that you wouldn’t have been before. And sometimes amazing things can come of that.

Jeneta Hot:
Absolutely. Oh my gosh. Fantastic. Okay. So you mentioned you following your boss to Facebook. I’ll ask this question and we can pick it apart a little bit, but we normally say, what drives you as a leader? What’s your leadership philosophy? Who inspires you or served as a mentor or sponsor along the way? And what do you think ultimately has been key to your success? So I love, we’ve prefaced this, previewed this a little bit.

Elisabeth Diana:
Lots of good questions. Okay. Let me see if I can unpack it. I would say driving me as a leader is that I am approachable. So I’m here for anyone. So people don’t feel like they have to have everything perfectly laid out when they come to me. They can come to me as a sounding board that I can coach them through something that’s hard or help them get to a decision. So that’s really important. I’m not there to just tell them what to do. I’m there to bring out the best in them and figure out what / problem solve a bit, I think is what I’m there for. So being approachable enough that they can come to me early and often that I can be a sounding board.

The other thing is just that or level of trust that I trust in them to do a really good job. It’s about delivering beyond just 10 out of 10, but delivering an 11 out of 10, exceeding expectations. That’s always my bar. And I trust in them to have that same bar and set of expectations for themselves. But I’m also there if there are things that we need to course correct, I can get in there and I can get into the details with them. I’m not just there zooming out to the big picture. I also want to get in the details with them. So that’s something that I think I do well. But I think it’s about a level of trust so that you’re not micromanaging anyone.

The final thing I’ll say is, I’ll try not to curse during this thing, but someone gave this advice to me and I’m passing it along, that as a manager, and even as a leader, you want to be an shit umbrella and not a shit funnel. You want to be a shit umbrella, not a shit funnel meaning, you want to protect your team. You don’t want to funnel the shit down to them because that’s a really gross metaphor, but it’s true. You don’t want to pass along bad stuff that they then have to deal with as a manager. It’s your job to unblock, to tackle, to help them with that stuff. And I think that’s an important thing that’s a very powerful metaphor in fact. You’ll remember it. It’s memorable.

And finally, I think the other thing is just context sharing and information sharing. I think there’s companies where people hold information and they think it’s power and they use it. I totally disagree with that. I think information sharing is power. The more context you give your team, you give your partners the better environment they have to do a better job. Instead of just asking someone for something, tell them why you’re asking for it. If something is brewing, that’s important and strategic to know. Give them an early sneak peek if it’s not material or anything crazy. But if it’s going to help them do their jobs better and have better context, that’s important. And I think we sometimes wait until things are perfect in a bow and we send them off into the world. And I think early and often updates are better.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah. Oh my gosh, yes. A striking example but absolutely part of it, providing that coverage and that also builds the trust. If you’re sharing information, but you’re like, “Yeah. I can come with something and they will protect me and look after me.” Fantastic. And you mentioned who inspired you, served as mentor, would you say it was that manager who you followed over from Google to Facebook, was it, who was able to-

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. And there are a lot of people. Brandon McCormick, he was at Google and then you went to Facebook. He established that level of trust as a manager to me. So I think I’ve maybe emulated that level of trust and helping people get the best out of people, but also giving them trust to do their job and do it well. So yeah, he was definitely an early mentor. I think there are people at Facebook who also… Debbie Frost, another amazing, amazing mentor. She was always like, okay in an email or a meeting, always be thinking about how to move the ball forward. So like, what are next steps? Or how do I look around the corner and anticipate something before someone else does? Always be thinking, “Okay. What would happen next? What would happen next? What would happen next? And how do you support your team? Or as an individual contributor, how can you think about doing that next thing to get the ball moving forward to that end goal?” Whatever it is.

I think the COO of Instagram, Justin Osofsky, is also a really good… He taught me the importance of looking at a problem and figuring out, “Okay. What is the problem we’re trying to solve? Or what’s the goal that we’re trying to achieve?” Always start with that. Or what does success look like? Always anchor yourself to the big picture first, and then work backwards and then decide, “Okay. What are the options that we have to get us to that point of success, to get us to that goal, to solve that problem and look at the trade offs of each option and weigh them against each other.” So there’s a bunch of frameworks that I’ve learned over the years, a lot of them at Facebook and Instagram actually, that have helped me in my career.

Jeneta Hot:
Oh my gosh, fantastic. Yeah, absolutely. And all of that, you drag that with you. You drag your relationships with you too as you move forward.

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. I mean, that’s the other thing that I should… Relationship building never goes away. I mean, yes, work is based on other things besides relationships, it should be, but building great relationships and making sure you build up a good reputation as someone who can get stuff done, who’s strategic, who can move the ball forward. Yeah, I think all of those things matter, really. They matter and they pull through in other things that you do in your career, for sure.

Jeneta Hot:
Gosh, this is fantastic. I feel like we’re pulling out some of the gems that have been key.

Elisabeth Diana:
Oh my gosh, I love these questions. Thank you.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah. Okay. So this one is another multi-parter, of course. What are you most proud of during your career and what’s been the most challenging or most surprising and why?

Elisabeth Diana:
Gosh. I mean, I’m proud of a lot of stuff and it took more than just me. So I just want to caveat it that it wasn’t just me who did all these things. I would say early on at Facebook… Actually, this leads into what’s been the most challenging too. But I would say one thing that we did at Facebook early on was build out a small and medium size business advocacy program, and also an event program. So small businesses were using Facebook, they were similar to Google AdWords, and AdSense, they were a more cost effective option to running a business. You could take out ads, you could reach the exact audience that you wanted to reach, and you wouldn’t have to leave money on the table when you use TV ads. And things that are also usually typically reserved for larger advertisers, larger businesses.

So we saw it as leveling the playing field when it came to access to advertising and access to marketing your business and growing your business. Small businesses got this really early, but what we needed to do is connect them to each other so that they could learn from each other, but we could also use them as evangelists for PR. We could say, “Okay. You’ve done so many amazing things. You’ve grown your business so much, you’ve been able to go from local to global. Can we connect you with people that are like you in your industry so you all can learn from each other, but also could you tell your story to the world?” And that got them free PR. I mean, that got the information as well. So it was like a real win-win.

So we created that program where we’d create actually Facebook Groups and they would all come together and then we would bring them to Facebook and they would meet executives. They’d give early feedback on products. We’d give them access to early products that we were building. And it was a real two-way amazing relationship. And it worked really well. For Facebook, it helped us grow this amazing group of ambassadors for small businesses. And they could tell people about Facebook and why it’s working for them.

For us, it was great for PR and marketing. It was just a great way to get the word out. So that was something that I and many other people built. Shout out to Bess Yount who did that as well and Dan Levy. But yeah, it was a really great way to get the word out about Facebook advertising for small businesses. And then on the most challenging, I know that was a long answer, but I will keep this one short. Most challenging. I think, one that also comes to mind at Facebook was just explaining to people how Facebook ads worked.

Early in the day, 2011, I mean, we were trying to explain that Facebook advertising actually works. And now I joke that I think we’ve done too good of a job. People believe Facebook and Instagram ads work. I think they sometimes are like, “Whoa, this is very personalized.” But people don’t remember that in the early days, it was 10 years ago, it was hard. No one believed that Facebook ads were going to work and around our IPO, and there was a really big open question about it. So that was a huge challenge and took a lot of time. I think the biggest thing that helped was back to the small business example, is just showcasing when it worked and how it worked, for whom it worked. So small and bigger advertisers. But it was definitely a long haul.

Jeneta Hot:
Fantastic. Oh my gosh, absolutely. And great lesson for anyone trying to start something new and really just getting into the, here’s what it’s done, showcasing it.

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a reminder that just some things take a while. It’s not an overnight thing that will work. You got to chip away at it.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah. Oh my gosh. And I guess, do you have anything for what’s surprised you throughout the course of your career? Good surprises, challenging surprises, what have you, things you weren’t expecting?

Elisabeth Diana:
I think just being open to new projects and new… I think if there’s something that really interests you, just start investigating. Start figuring out the people who are working on it, get to know the subject matter really, really well. Become an expert and tell your manager, tell the person that’s managing you or partners that you work with that you’re more interested in learning about that. I think too often we solve for weaknesses that people, I’m not good at this, so I must learn this thing to get better at it. But also, if you’re good at something, people should double down on what you’re good at or what you’re interested in, because that’s the thing that I think you’re going to really excel at.

So when I see someone on my team really saying, “Okay. You know what? I really love X, Y, Z.” I always am like, “Let’s get you to do more of that. Let’s figure out a way to free up your time to get you to spend more time on the things that give you energy.” Because I think for me as a manager, I see that as probably a way that they’re going to be even more successful for the team. So my advice to anyone that’s surprised me in my career, the things that I’ve excelled at the most, or the things that I of raised my hand and said, “Hey, I actually am really interested in this thing over here.” And it tangentially-related maybe to what I was doing, but I really wanted to learn more.

A good example on the small business side of things is there was, in Germany they call it the Mittelstand, it’s the small and medium-sized business community in Germany. They’re an active part of the economy. And I was like, “This is really cool, can I do more here?” And I got to go to Germany and work with the team and we built up a program there and that was something that I raised my hand for. I think we often don’t think about the things that maybe might be slightly outside of our scope, but you’d be surprised that your manager might be really excited for you to work on those things. And they’re not mind readers, so you have to tell them. You’re never going to get something just by thinking about it. You actually have to go for it and ask for it. Yeah.

Jeneta Hot:
Fantastic. Awesome. I love that. That’s really cool. Okay. So the fifth question as we close this out. What words of advice would you offer to those embarking on ambitious career paths and setting big goals in life? And you mentioned, you were in the Recession between years one and two, you shifted your plan. I think of course for people in school right now, or thinking about school or recent grads or really anyone, let’s just leave at that. What words of advice would you offer for those embarking on their paths?

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. I mean, if you’re graduating from business school, just be, again, the theme of flexibility. Be really open. Just be open to what are things that you think are going to be around in the next five to 10 years, or things that you think are really interesting and emerging, topics that interest you. I would explore those. Yes, maybe they might not have the exact role in marketing or strategy or finance or ops that you want, but if there’s a business or an industry that’s interesting to you or a problem that you want to solve, you are going to figure out a way to get into that right role. I think it’s just being more flexible around learning and having that learning mindset. Because right now I think really cool stuff can happen, even if it’s not exactly the thing you want. So just be very open-minded.

The second thing, I think anything that you do… We just had actually a speaker come to our All Hands and he gave some really sage advice, which is exceed expectations. There’s always in someone’s mind, okay, that’s the thing that they want you to do. Go to 11, don’t do 10 out of 10, go to 11. I think try to anticipate the additional thing or the thing that comes after 10 out of 10, and do it. Look around corners. If there’s stuff that, okay, wait, once you hit that goal, what’s the next thing that’s going to happen? Try to anticipate that and figure out a way to deliver beyond that and meet that thing that you’re anticipating.

I think the people that I always want to follow and work for are the people that exceed my expectations and go beyond the task at hand. And I think that’s advice that I would give for myself and for anyone is whatever you’re doing, even if it’s not quite the thing you want to be doing at the moment, over-deliver. Yeah.

Jeneta Hot:
All right. Perfect. That’s excellent advice. And of course that’ll resonate with literally everyone listening to this, myself included. Fantastic. Okay. Well, let’s shift. We’ve got a couple more minutes if you want to talk some rapid fires to close this out.

Elisabeth Diana:
Sure. I love a rapid fire.

Jeneta Hot:
Okay, cool. Okay. We’ve spoken about a number of jobs, but what was your first job?

Elisabeth Diana:
I think it was a babysitter. I always liked babysitting at places that had really good food in their pantry. I don’t know if other people relate. That’s so bad. But sit and eat snacks.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah, it’s totally a perk. Awesome. Was it neighborhood people or?

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah. It was, and I would walk people to school. Hilariously, you can’t tell at Zoom, but I’m short. So there are some of the people that I would walk to school who were literally my height or taller. They were like, “Which one’s the babysitter?” Yeah.

Jeneta Hot:
I love it. What’s your favorite city to travel to and favorite thing to do there?

Elisabeth Diana:
I mean, I have to pick New Orleans because it’s where my mother grew up. My mom’s side of the family’s from there. It’s just an amazing place if you haven’t been, I very much recommend it. And there’s good like places like Galatoire’s for lunch, Commander’s Palace, they’re just walking around the Garden District. There are these old amazing houses. Yeah, New Orleans.

Jeneta Hot:
Oh my gosh. It’s on my list. I need to go.

Elisabeth Diana:
Well, let’s talk before you go.

Jeneta Hot:
Oh my gosh. Okay. What song is currently playing on loop for you?

Elisabeth Diana:
That’s an amazing one. Well, I am a huge Swiftie. That’s something about me. So I can talk about Taylor Swift for a very long time. So I really like the new album. I have thoughts on it. And then I like country, there’s an album called Plains. These two women got together and put together a country album that’s remarkable. And there’s a song called Hurricane. You should check it out if you like. Be open to country. Country means many things to many people. This is more like, I would say bluegrass-y, but it’s really, really, really good. So it’s called Plains and the song’s Hurricane.

Jeneta Hot:
Oh my gosh, I love it. Yeah, I will definitely listen this weekend. Yeah, thanks. Okay. We’ll do one more. I’ve got a list that I like to pull from. Do you have a secret talent or hobby that people might be surprised to hear about?

Elisabeth Diana:
Gosh, yeah. Hobbies, so hard. I mean, I really like everything having to do with movies. I’m a big movie buff, so I love that. Someone recommended a really good [podcast]: Dune Pod. You should check it out. So I love everything movies. I would say this just de-stress me is just when I used to have to commute a lot to Facebook and stuff, and I love singing in my car. I’m not good, but I love singing in my car.

Jeneta Hot:
Oh my gosh. 100%. It’s such a release. Yeah. That’s one thing that I think I don’t do enough of anymore, but it’s just you…

Elisabeth Diana:
We don’t do enough as much. But yeah.

Jeneta Hot:
Yeah, nothing like scream-singing your favorite songs. Oh my gosh, I love it. That’s so good. I appreciate you playing. Rapid fire is always a solid way to close out and this was really fun. I enjoyed it. Okay. Well, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing your story, your insights, and helping us to think through how to blaze our own ambitious career trails. And we appreciate you making the time.

Elisabeth Diana:
Yeah, anytime. This was amazing. Thank you again for having me.

Jeneta Hot:
Thank you. You can find Elisabeth Diana on LinkedIn and on Twitter. She’s @ediyork. We’ll share everything, including her full bio on our website at MBAchic.com after this. All right. Take care, Elisabeth. Thank you again. Have a great day.

Elisabeth Diana:
Thanks, Jeneta.

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