Nadia Rawlinson used to be a road warrior. The tech executive regularly commuted between the Chicago area and her office on the West Coast, where she was Chief Human Resources Officer for the Fortune 500 global events promoter and venue operator Live Nation Entertainment.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Rawlinson, aptly sensing the paradigm shift occurring in the workplace—and in broader society—left Live Nation. She joined the team at business communication platform Slack Technologies, headquartered in San Francisco, as Chief People Officer. She now oversees everything from global recruiting and people operations to organizational effectiveness and program management.
Demand for workplace communication tools like Slack soared last year (after Q2 revenue grew 39 percent, Salesforce announced the acquisition of the company for $27.7 billion in December) as teams across the globe adapted to working from home. Thus, Slack immediately added management of the company’s ongoing response to the impacts of the pandemic on both its employees and office spaces to Rawlinson’s purview.
She is uniquely positioned to tackle the challenge, having nearly 20 years of experience across all facets of human resources strategy and development on a global scale. Armed with a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Rawlinson spent her early career at tech behemoth Groupon, financial services company American Express, and Silicon Valley giants Google and Rakuten.
Ever heard of them?
“I felt good about the opportunities I have had thus far but then started to think about what’s next,” says Rawlinson. “It had been an extraordinary time to be at Live Nation during the upswing of the intersection between music and culture, but with the industry facing the headwinds of COVID-19, it felt like the right time to figure out where I could be put to my best and highest use and where I could make the biggest impact.”
When I speak to Rawlinson, she’s at home on the North Shore in the midst of what Slack has dubbed a ‘Friyay,’ a company-wide, once-per-month Friday off to help mitigate burnout and to offer employees an opportunity to recharge. Another newly instituted policy at Slack is emergency time off, where employees can step away from the office for things like homeschooling or a coveted vaccine appointment without having to use precious vacation days.
Both are policies Rawlinson says will live on beyond the pandemic. “The world has fundamentally changed,” she explains. “It’s not reverting back to the way things used to be. There will be a next normal, and a prominent feature of that will be flexible work. And I don’t mean flexible in that people can be at home but more so that people can work when is best and most productive for them. How often can you be part of a company on the cusp of what’s happening in the world? This isn’t just about a job but about leaving an imprint on the industry at large.”
The team at Slack understands the future of work more than most. They even launched their own think tank, Future Forum, a consortium that will help companies make the transformations necessary to thrive in a new economy.
“We believe in being our own test case and live and breathe this work every day,” says Rawlinson. “It’s not just research—we put it into practice. Intentional investments you make in culture, leadership, and identifying who you are as an organization and what you stand for pays off in times of uncertainty.”
Future Forum recently released data from its first Remote Employee Experience Index showing that individuals experience remote work very differently depending on their unique circumstances. The results found that 97 percent of Black knowledge workers currently working remotely prefer the future of work to be remote or hybrid as it increases a sense of belonging and makes it easier for Black employees to manage stress—leading to higher job satisfaction and engagement. Companies that move to a hybrid work model are best positioned to level the corporate playing field and attract and retain the best talent in the post-pandemic world.
“I’m a Black executive at a time when not many of us are in C-Suite roles,” says Rawlinson. “I feel the weight of responsibility, and I welcome it. Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, has said—and I’m paraphrasing— there have been many ancestors before us who had to endure much worse just for me to be where I am today. If the burden of that is simply that I must be excellent at what I do, then I welcome that any day. It’s a small price to pay to honor the work that came before me.”
The moments Rawlinson says feel the most significant in her career are the ones in which she leveraged her positions of influence to effectuate change. Take, for example, when Rawlinson joined the board of directors at J.Crew Group this January (she’s been on the board of directors at Vail Resorts since December 2019 as well). From a gender, race, and age perspective, the 40-something Rawlinson is an anomaly.
“I feel proud of that,” she says. “It’s important to me. There’s been more inclusion on boards both in pace and number of diverse directors in the last year than the previous few years combined. And J.Crew holds a special place in my heart—it’s led by a woman and has a strong female design point of view. It’s a truly iconic American brand. I still remember when Michelle Obama wore J.Crew accessories to the presidential inauguration.”
Passionate about supporting female CEOs and founders— J.Crew Group named industry veteran Libby Wadle chief executive officer last fall—Rawlinson considers herself a J.Crew evangelist.
“Over the last year, I had to recalibrate where I’ve been spending my time not only professionally but also personally and philanthropically,” says Rawlinson. “The chance to stop, rethink, and be intentional about our choices in life is something I hope we all benefit from.”
For Rawlinson, yes, that means driving the “next normal” culture at Slack but also capitalizing on time at home with her husband and their two dogs. She has gotten into a COVID-inspired habit of mind-clearing bike rides to LF Juice for a protein smoothie before morning Zoom calls and is planning for an annual August reunion with family and friends in Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
“I’m excited for a return to social and personal connection,” says Rawlinson. “But I don’t think that means everything goes back to the way it was. More than ever before, we are all now in a position to better understand what truly matters and what’s actually important. My wish is that this stays true for all of us even beyond the pandemic.”