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Leadership Spotlight – Zoe Jordan, CEO

Leadership Spotlight – Zoe Jordan, CEO

A highly proven and experienced commercial director with a diverse background in food manufacturing, Zoe Jordan brings over 25 years’ knowledge and insights to her role as CEO of Ashbury. Promoted to the helm of the business in September 2022, Zoe’s first-hand understanding of the very real issues and opportunities that food businesses face – having worked in both technical and commercial roles – places her in a unique position to further develop the business and become the compliance partner of choice.

Her ambition as CEO is to ensure the team takes a proactive approach to supporting businesses with their compliance policies and procedures, as well as to continue enhancing its strong internal culture built over the past decade.

International Women's Day

Here she explains what it’s like to be a female CEO, and how she (along with the wider Ashbury team) endeavour to create an inclusive, equal and supportive workplace:

What inspired you to pursue a career in the food industry?

“I grew up with a passion for cooking. My grandmother would always make delicious, homemade food, and from a young age I would enjoy assisting her and getting embroiled in the process. Then, when I was school, my favourite subject was science, and so I wanted a career that allowed me to combine them both – the food industry was the natural route.”

Have you encountered any influential people or moments that have directed your progression?

“I’ve always has the pleasure of working with some fantastic individuals who’ve been incredibly influential, and all of whom have helped shaped my career.

For example, five years ago, I was very fortunate to join Ashbury. At the time, I recall the business owner, James Post saying, “I would like you to sit in this seat on the senior leadership team.” That particular moment was so significant, and I felt honoured that he trusted me to help run his business.

Previously to Ashbury, I worked in food manufacturing for 12 1/2 years in a number of different roles. A pinnacle moment during this time was when a long-standing colleague approached me and said: “why don’t you come and work for me on the technical side?” I’d never before considered it, but this opened a whole host of new opportunities and direction, and was integral to my progression.

Both of these individuals were well-established within the industry, and professional I’d worked alongside for a number of years. Having them believe in me and my ability, guide me, and assist me was brilliant. And actually, is a testament to the close-knot and supportive nature of the industry overall.”

What’s been your biggest obstacle to success?

“My greatest obstacle has probably been my own self-belief. While I always pride myself for being hardworking, determined and driven, I lacked confidence. But this is something I’ve worked on over the years and today, I reflect on my career and can wholeheartedly say that I’m incredibly proud of all that I have achieved.”

Have you encountered any challenges throughout your career?

“While things have changed (and are changing), generally speaking, I believe there’s a common issue that spans outside of the food industry (and the workplace altogether), in that women are typically carrying the mental load of both life and work. They’re often the decision makers (choosing what’s for tea, weekend plans and who’s collecting the kids), the caregivers, and predominantly put others’ needs before their own.

One of the most common challenges that I discuss with other women in the industry is, of course, raising a family. It’s hard to juggle being a mother and a working woman – even in this day and age. Nobody ever explicitly said to me: you can’t do this job and raise a family. But it was certainly implied.

And it goes beyond that: early in my career, prior to having children, I think as a woman (regardless of my seniority or expertise), I was expected to make the tea, book the meeting room, and arrange the practicalities and logistics within the office. At the time, it was taken for granted that that’s what you’d do.

Luckily, things have moved on massively over the past 25 years and positive progress is clear to note.”

How do Ashbury’s policies and culture impact you?

“I’m incredibly proud of Ashbury’s culture – something which I’ve worked with James to continue to evolve during my time here. It’s an inclusive, positive and equal environment. For a relatively small business, Ashbury invests significant time, money and resources into establishing policies and procedures, such as our dedicated menopause policy and a really fair maternity leave, recognising the need to look after our team.

At my current stage in life, I have grown-up, teenage children – long gone are the days of school runs, childcare issues and nativity plays. But I’m still a mother, and the flexibility that Ashbury offers allows me to be one. Whether it’s picking my kids up from college, being with them on significant occasions (such as collecting exam results), or taking them to an appointment for example. It’s more than supporting working mothers with young kids – it’s about family.

Despite sitting in a senior seat, I will always advise if I’m nipping out to run an errand or need some flexibility on a particular day. As an employee, I have a responsibility to be open and honest, and this is rewarded with a high level of trust. I behave with my line manager (James) in the way that I expect everyone else to – I would never abuse my position, and I think it’s important that I practise what I preach and set the standard of the business.”

What advise would you give to young women seeking a career in the industry?

“Follow your passion.

Especially in the early days of your career, explore a myriad of roles, businesses and experiences to find a pathway that you love. Do as many jobs as you can, gain as much knowledge as you can, and say yes to as many opportunities as you can. This insight and expertise will provide you with the background that you can lean on later in your journey and assist you in seeking more senior roles.

Years ago, I worked for a business that allowed me to regularly move divisions. And in my role today, I’m nowhere near food. But I know what it’s like to work in a food factory, in the quality department, in innovation, in sales, in marketing. I’ve done it! And those experiences allow me to make considered commercial decisions and help me empathise and understand why and what my team, and my clients, are doing.”

According to a report by McKinsey & Company, in the food sector women make up 49% of employees at entry level, with women representing only 23% of the food industry’s C-suite execs. Do you think the food industry has enough female representation and/or what needs to be done to improve?

“First and foremost, we need to understand what these statistics are showing us. Why does this number halve? What are the reasons that women aren’t more represented in senior level positions?

Is it simply because many women reach a certain stage in their lives and decide to have children, and so take time off to raise a family, return in a part-time capacity, or face delays in their progression to such roles?

I was in food manufacturing until I had children and didn’t return afterwards. My move into technical services felt like a really positive step for me. While I won’t know for sure how my previous position would have worked alongside a young family, having been in a sales role travelling the country and working long days with nights away, it undoubtedly would have been tough.

But there are likely other factors that also play a part in this statistic, that we mustn’t overlook. The food industry is hard work. Especially if you’re in a factory environment, and so perhaps eventually men and women decide to seek alternative roles. Or, perhaps, some don’t seek progression or extra responsibility at all.”

How do you believe Ashbury differs from other businesses in the industry?

“I feel very lucky at Ashbury to work for a business owner who wholly believes in equality between men and women. This is representative as we have a high proportion of women in senior level and management roles – in fact, there’s more women than men! And it’s the first workplace where I’ve every truly felt supported, and it’s given me the confidence to strive for success.

Ashbury is proud to be different. While the technical industry doesn’t face the same challenges that manufacturing workplaces might – in having to be present on site, for example – we are ahead of the curve. Historically, many women have sought roles at Ashbury due to being able to work from home. They can use their technical and regulatory skills, without the need to commute or spend long days away from home. And we can benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience. Win:Win.

We’re proud to be offering great options for our team, but we know there’s always more to be done – both internally and with the wider industry. And we’re on a mission to make the food sector more inclusive, supportive and equal place for everyone.”

Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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