Inspirational Woman: Ann Chambers | HR Director, Ecotone UK

Ann Chambers

Ann Chambers is HR Director at Ecotone UK, a natural and healthy food company with pioneering brands in expanding market segments including Clipper Teas, Kallo, Whole Earth and Mrs Crimble’s.

Ecotone UK is B Corp and CarbonNeutral certified and, either directly or through its subsidiaries, accredited by or a member of a range of industry bodies and associations including; the Fairtrade Foundation; the Soil Association; the UK Tea & Infusions Association, and the Organic Trade Board. This year, Ecotone UK was certified as a Great Place to Work™ and a UK Best Workplace for Women™ .

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Always close to the countryside, I had an idyllic childhood with my two siblings. We always grew our own fruit and vegetables and I learned a lot about quality food, cooking from scratch and not wasting food from a young age.

I started my career in music which is something I always had a passion for. After doing this for a couple of years followed by a stint in the city, I decided to move closer to home. Many peers said I would be the ‘perfect fit for HR’, but I kept closing my ears to the possibility.

Instead I landed a job with a large pharmaceutical company. My dual role was supporting the regulatory and HR functions. Regulatory definitely wasn’t for me and I loved the world of HR – especially because I had two inspiring mentors – so I moved into this.

My passion for music hasn’t diminished, nor has my love and enthusiasm for food. Since joining Ecotone UK, I have continuously learned about biodiversity and responsible food choices. I now operate as HR Director to an incredible team. Working for Ecotone reinforces my belief that eating good food can make a world of difference to my health and the planet.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, never – although I did follow my passion for music. Despite enjoying my administrative role at the Royal Opera House, I became disillusioned with the commute and decided to find a role nearer to home.

Thanks to my employer at the time of venturing into HR, I gained my CIPD and moved through the organisational structure to be head of HR – finding I really had a passion for people.

I love my career in HR as I have a new challenge every day. I’ve continued to learn, grow and develop. I never thought I’d become an HR Director – but here I am, and I’m loving it!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

The transition from the Arts into a different industry sector was hard. At that time many people were very blinkered and believed that someone from the creative sector would be unable to cope or manage in a multinational company.

At times in my career, I have been the only woman on management teams. Whilst I’ve never faced any overt discrimination, there were times when my voice was not heard. This is another reason I love working in HR, because you can ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

On a personal level, during my childhood I recovered from a very serious, unexpected illness that left me hospitalised. Three weeks later I sat my A Levels and passed with grades that were way above my expectations.

On a business level, it’s looking at the UK office-based team at our site in Camberley, knowing that I’ve had a hand in recruiting everyone – all 90 employees!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Being true to myself and my values. I always make sure I treat everyone with the same level of fairness, no matter their role or background.

In HR it’s important to spot those who have an incredible amount to offer, but for whatever reason may not be so visible in the business, then encouraging them to gain confidence. As a result of that we’ve been very successful in giving colleagues different opportunities to learn and grow.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is a brilliant way of encouraging people to believe in themselves and become more than they ever thought possible. I’m very open to reverse mentoring, finding new solutions and being creative. I’m not an active mentor at the moment. However, through a partnership with the charity, MyBigCareer, the team at Ecotone UK are looking to become coaches and mentors for local students who struggle with social mobility.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

This may be an eccentric idea, but if every company (large or small), could devote one whole month to let their top women lead the organisation, it would be a very interesting exercise. Not only would this inspire women across the business, but it would encourage a cultural and behavioural shift and boost diversity of thought.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Believe in yourself: know that people will look to you for advice and support as they value your pragmatic and practical solutions.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is finding time to take a staycation!

After that I’d like to increase the amount of time I spend coaching local school children and volunteering with some local biodiversity projects.

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