In the Middle of Crisis, Women Rise Up

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How a veteran-led disaster relief nonprofit is challenging the expected and changing the narrative for women. 

Lorey Zlotnick, Chief Marketing Officer, Team Rubicon

When I signed on as the Chief Marketing Officer at Team Rubicon—a disaster relief non-profit founded by veterans—I became the first female CMO in the organization’s 10-year history. Coming from sports, entertainment, and tech startups, I arrived fully prepared to work within another masculine organization, knowing that the military and veteran population are predominately male. What I discovered not only surprised me, but also impressed me.

Team Rubicon hasn’t been changing the narrative for women, it has been challenging women to change the narrative for women. Nearly 50 percent of the employees at Team Rubicon are women and the volunteer base from a gender perspective over indexes military veterans by 200 percent. And the culture I found wasn’t just a promise on a page, it is deeply rooted in long-standing values around inclusion, respect, and collaboration; essential when layered with unpredictable and high stress situations that come along with the industry. 

From the start, Team Rubicon’s leadership handed me the reins, empowered me to evolve the company narrative and challenge the norm. And with Covid, the norm has definitely been challenged. Millions of women, including myself, now face the daunting task of juggling full-time careers, managing households, functioning within makeshift office spaces, and home schooling simultaneously without clear boundaries between the two worlds. With more than 2M women leaving the workplace in the past year, I am fortunate to be working within a culture that ensures I have a voice, the space to contribute, and I don’t have to apologize for being a mother. 

I had joined Team Rubicon just as COVID-19 hit. Not only was our world shut down, but as an organization we were also compelled to change our direction both internally and externally. Behind the scenes, I was also adapting to the change with learning a new industry, embracing new technologies, managing a team I had never met in person, and also struggling to remember how to find the value of X. 

As an organization we pivoted to find ways not only to serve disaster survivors, but now also find a way to serve vulnerable communities deeply affected by the coronavirus. By April, the organization was not only responding to tornadoes in Tennessee, but also helping stand up COVID-19 testing clinics in Charlotte, NC, and Los Angeles. And simultaneously we were deploying veterans, doctors, nurses and EMTs to the Navajo Nation which was being hit incredibly hard by the coronavirus. Team Rubicon also worked with partner organizations to expand its capabilities to assist in executing nation-wide feeding operations, helping to put food in the hands of struggling families. 

What I was witnessing was the women of Team Rubicon stepping up and being placed in charge of these massive operations. Women were on the ground leading and bringing hope to survivors on their worst days. While 26 percent of Team Rubicon Greyshirts are women, more than 33 percent are in field leadership roles serving as incident commanders, public information officers, providing medical care, and overseeing hundreds of Greyshirts as they tarped roofs, delivered meals, removed massive southern oaks sprawled across houses and driveways, and helped get residents get back into their homes. By continually placing women in leadership roles—within the organization, and out in the field—big ideas have flourished and are creating impact. 

Now with more than 3,000 women who have become Greyshirts and deployable in the last year alone, we are leading the charge for change within the field of disaster relief. Team Rubicon’s leadership understands that giving women a seat at the table isn’t enough. We must also provide the platform for voices to be heard, otherwise that seat essentially remains empty. I am grateful for the women before me who have opened the door to the boardroom, and to the men in my career who have encouraged me to walk through it.

Standing strong with both male and female counterparts at every level of the organization, it is refreshing to serve within a culture that isn’t afraid to make bold moves, create a space for all leaders to thrive, and continues to put an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that change is necessary and we all still have room to evolve. I am proud to be a part of an organization that continues to embrace the challenge with unwavering commitment. It personally allows me the space to evolve within the C-suite, collaborate with my peers, lead my team, and pause to make my kids a sandwich.


About the Author: Lorey has cut a distinctive path for herself over a 20-year career in creative brand management and multi-disciplinary marketing. Employing a strategic, data-driven approach, she has guided consumer-facing companies through all phases of brand discovery, creative development, and corporate identity rollout. Her leadership ability has been demonstrated in high-profile executive roles at the National Football League, News Corporation at both Fox Cable News Networks and Fox Sports, Disney, SONY Digital Entertainment, NBC Universal, Los Angeles Times, Nestle, and Zequity Marketing (which she founded). Now, Lorey is stepping into the arena; using her strategic branding expertise to shape the narrative of Team Rubicon and build large-scale support for our mission.