This January, Diane Solinger joined the CESR Advisory Board. With her passions for purpose-driven work, ethics, and social responsibility, along with her varied experience in the nonprofit sector and in the corporate world, she is a great asset to the Advisory Board, as well as to students. Solinger sat down with the CESR team to talk about her career path, her work at Google, and her advice for current students.
Engaging with CESR
Solinger graduated from CU before CESR was founded, but she learned about the Center when Geri Mitchell-Brown asked her to speak to students in the Certificate in Corporate Social Responsibility program. Solinger became more interested in CESR by connecting with former Board member and colleague, Andy Hinton, Google’s Vice President for Global Ethics and Compliance. She joined the CESR board because the mission aligned not only to her professional experience but also because, as an alumna, she has a strong connection to the university.
Ethics and social responsibility are business imperatives, Solinger said. Whether companies like Walmart design programs to manage their supply chain in a more sustainable way or companies like Google have a corporate mission that is inherently a social mission, sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility are now integrated into the definition of a successful company. As workers become more socially and environmentally aware, and Millennials and members of Generation Z enter the workforce, companies that exhibit these values best are better equipped to attract top talent. Including business in social and environmental movements is also essential to creating meaningful change.
“Corporations have the potential to be amazing forces for good and create positive change in the world. We’re in an era where the expectation is that companies will be ethically and socially responsible. Employees expect it, consumers expect it and governments expect it. Our role as members of the CESR Advisory Board is to ensure that our students understand these ground rules and are equipped to navigate through an ever-changing landscape to ensure ethical and socially responsible business is the norm.“ Solinger said.
After working for 25 years in the nonprofit sector, Solinger began her career at Google to lead global employee giving and volunteering, initially part of Google’s HR team (People Operations) and eventually as part of Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm.
When asked what her most rewarding experience was, Solinger said that she was happiest when the programs she and her team designed enabled people to express their own values through giving and volunteering while inspiring others to do the same. As the company tripled in the number of employees during this time the participation in giving and volunteering programs grew from over 30% to over 60%. That was a tremendous accomplishment requiring a user-centric mindset and simplification of processes to make it easier for employees to engage, Solinger said.
Solinger recently became the Director of Communications and Culture for sumUX, the user experience team that works on user research and product design for Search, Assistant, News, as well as the daily Doodles on Google’s homepage. Solinger thinks of her team’s main job as the user experience team for the user experience team. It’s about creating a great employee experience from recruitment to the team through the various phases of being on the team such as on-boarding, career development, diversity and inclusion as well as recognition and celebration. “We design people programs to ensure our team members are welcomed, supported, celebrated and included in the overall team’s journey and successes” says Solinger.
“Be a changemaker wherever you are,” Solinger advised current students. If you want to incorporate a culture of giving back into your workplace, it can be as simple as asking your coworkers to come with you when you volunteer, she said. Everyone can make a difference and small steps matter.
The most important traits to have when entering the workforce are resiliency, agile thinking, tolerance for ambiguity, risk, and failure, and applying everything you learn to your job, Solinger said. It’s also important to find the right type of corporate culture that will allow you to flourish.
“You have to be in a safe environment where you’re able to fail,” Solinger said. “We [at Google] don’t know the future and are building it as we go, so we must be resilient and flexible with all the changes in life and career.”
Solinger said she uses what she learned from her 25 years in the nonprofit sector every day, and recommended that students to take advantage of any learning experience they can. This involves keeping an open mind about opportunities and building real relationships when networking.
“You can’t underestimate the power of networking,” Solinger said. “That’s the thing that’s helped me the most. Almost every single step came through a network.” Along with networking, she believes that learning how to write well and manage others effectively in formal and informal situations has contributed to her success.
Solinger’s most important advice for women in the workforce is to ignore the little voice in their heads that holds them back. While she recognizes that we all have that little voice, she believes that men are better at ignoring it. One way to do this is to apply for every job you are interested in, even if you don’t meet 100% of the requirements.
“Even if you have 50% of the requirements on the list, go for it,” Solinger said. “What do you have to lose? There is nothing wrong with trying. Don’t be your own roadblock. Get out of your way!”
Solinger’s final advice to current students? Look for a culture fit when job hunting, and focus less on what you do and more on who you do it with, especially your manager.