Celebrating International Women's Day: In Conversation with our CEO, Lizzie Gurr

Celebrating International Women's Day: In Conversation with our CEO, Lizzie Gurr

In honour of International Women's Day, we sat down with Lizzie Gurr our CEO of Ozone Coffee, to discuss her journey, experiences, and insights as a woman in leadership. From her early days as one of Ozone’s UK founding partners and restaurant manager to her current role as CEO, Lizzie shares candidly about her career progression within Ozone Coffee, highlighting moments that shaped her leadership journey. From navigating the complexities of balancing motherhood and career aspirations to confronting the biases and misconceptions surrounding women in leadership, Lizzie shares openly about her experiences. She delves into topics ranging from the importance of taking credit for your work to her mum's influence growing up and the impact of the Barbie movie.

1. Can you tell us a little about your career progression at Ozone?

I started my journey at Ozone as one of the London founding partners. We opened here in 2012, and I began with the company as a restaurant manager. I then transitioned into a sales role about 12 months in, and following that, I quickly developed into management, operational management. In 2018, I was appointed Chief Operating Officer for the global group, working across both the New Zealand and UK businesses. Finally, in 2022, I was appointed CEO.

2. Can you share a particularly memorable or impactful moment from your journey to becoming CEO?

There are lots of good memories. A memory that really stands out is when I was travelling to New Zealand for work. I'd left my 18-month-old daughter at home with my husband in London for two weeks, really missing her. I was walking home from dinner one night, having been out with our team, and I was talking to our managing director at the time, Craig MacFarlane, and I just said to him, 'I just feel like I'm failing every day. I'm failing as a mum, I'm failing at work, I just can't give either of these things everything that I have.' And it was a really comforting conversation for me because he said, 'Welcome to Parenthood.' And I was like, 'Oh, okay, is it like this for dads as well?' And he was like, 'It's exactly like this for dads as well, I think we're just not talking about it as much.' And that was actually a really empowering conversation for me because I realised, okay, if everyone's feeling like this, that has young children and they're feeling torn across their career and their home life, maybe I should start talking about it more and make it more of a normal conversation.

3. Which women inspire you?

I've been inspired by so many women over the years, and I still am to this day. Like my mum, friends from school, my sisters, my colleagues, previous senior women that I've worked with who have moved on from Ozone and gone into other careers, But I guess the constant inspiration in my life has been my mum. She was a single mum, brought up three daughters, and when my youngest sister was tiny, she decided to put herself through a law degree, studying extramurally, and did that while raising the three of us, all with the motivation to provide us with better opportunities.

4. Can you share some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in leadership?

I guess there are two challenges I've faced in my journey towards becoming a CEO, and there are still challenges today. One is undervaluing myself. It's really hard to benchmark yourself as a female in these kinds of roles because there are actually just not that many of us around. So yeah, knowing my value, that's one. And the other challenge I've had is, and this isn't just something I've experienced, it's on behalf of other women as well, is men taking credit for your work. And I guess the way that I've tried to combat both of those things is to be a very vocal, naturally confident person, but to kind of put yourself in a position where you can have those uncomfortable conversations and be prepared for them. And then put your hand up and take credit for your hard work is something that I've had to learn to do. As a Kiwi, we're often quite humble. It's something I've had to learn to do. It doesn't come very naturally to me, but I put my hand up and say, 'This is my work.' And sometimes that means literally signing your work on a document and putting this work was authored by you.

5. In what ways do you think Ozone’s company values align with the principles of gender equality and diversity, especially in the context of International Women's Day?

Ozone has always empowered women in the workplace. I've felt that in the 12 years that I've been with the company. I've never felt like my gender has in any way held me back from my progression. But a few things that we've done in the last couple of years since I've come into the leadership seat to make it even more inclusive for women. One is we made the decision to match our maternity leave for partners. So now it's not just the birthing parent that gets their maternity leave during the early stages of having a child, but their partner is also entitled to the same benefits. And I feel like that is a really key role in creating an equitable future.

The other thing Ozone has done in the last couple of years to make it a more inclusive environment for women is fully adopting hybrid and flexible working. The nature of our business, with restaurants, means it's not as easily done as in the corporate environment, but in our corporate environment, our workforce is completely hybrid. If people want to work from home, they can. We have some structure around encouraged days to be in the office for collaborative work. But we've found that both men and women participating in that scheme creates a more equal footing again because it's not like women having to come forward and say, 'Oh, I need special help because I need to be available for the kids today.' It democratises the whole thing.

Finally, in the last year, we've piloted a nine-day fortnight, so every other Friday is a non-working day in our company. That has really empowered both men and women to have more time for themselves, particularly those with young kids. It gives them one day off a week, to either help with childcare or they can do something for themselves. 

6. What advice would you give to other women aspiring to leadership positions, especially those looking to break into industries where women are underrepresented?

I think when it comes to breaking barriers and entering spaces that have traditionally been more male-dominated, one thing that has worked well for me, and I'd encourage others to do, is to take it as a personal responsibility to educate the people around you, predominantly men. Rather than being frustrated by how ill-informed they might be or what biases they might bring into a conversation or situation, fully take it upon yourself as your personal responsibility to educate that person. And if they're not willing to listen, it's the wrong environment, and that's super toxic, so just get out. But in my experience, most men are 100% ready to engage in the conversation and are looking for someone to provide answers and solutions.

7. What kind of influence do you strive to have on your female colleagues around you and the wider business?

I hope I can influence people around me by encouraging them to question everything and to question themselves, their motivations, and their inner dialogue, and not just accept the answers. Instead, approach life as a curious playground where you discover new things about yourself and other people. And don't settle.

8. How do you envision the role of women evolving within Ozone Coffee Roasters and the coffee industry as a whole in the coming years?

We have a really positive internal culture at Ozone of developing women in the workplace. Over the next couple of years, we want to take that influence a little further, and we're going to start tracking diversity in the producers that we work with at origin. We've historically worked with quite a diverse range of coffee producers, but we're going to start measuring it and setting targets to improve.

9. Ozone supports some exceptional female coffee producers. How do we ensure that these women receive fair compensation and recognition for their contributions?

At Ozone, we visit most of our farms on an annual or biannual basis. During these visits, we carry out audit processes to ensure that fair and equitable standards are being met. It's a complex task, especially when entering countries where you are the minority and coming from a place of privilege. In these situations, it's important not to approach the conversations thinking you have all the answers, but rather to approach them with curiosity and a desire to find out how we can best support the people in those countries.

This year marks the first time I'll have the opportunity to travel to origin myself, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm especially excited to meet with some female producers while I'm there. Roland, our green bean buyer, has emphasised the importance of female producers meeting female business leaders at the other end of the supply chain. So I'm thrilled for that opportunity.

10. What message would you like to convey to our employees and customers regarding the importance of celebrating and supporting women's achievements not just on International Women's Day, but every day?

I was having a conversation with someone close to me the other day about the Barbie movie, and they said to me, 'I didn't really enjoy it; I think it oversimplifies feminism.' I could actually relate to the observation. Of course, it's a popular culture film, but my kind of counter response to it was, 'I think that's good because pop culture is mass culture, and if that's where the majority of people are at in terms of this conversation, it's great that there's a Hollywood film now accessible to everyone to start to understand a little bit more about some of the challenges that are facing women.

So with that in mind, I guess my message and the spirit of the Barbie film is for all women is that you are enough just exactly how you are today.