Pioneer Profile: Meet Chris Woods

19th Feb 2024

It’s time that we recognise the people behind the evolving world of work. Our working lives have shifted to being more inclusive, more people-centric, more flexible, and just plain better for both employees and companies. 

These changes didn’t just happen: they were put into place and upheld by individuals and teams working to create a better working future for everyone. 

So we’re finally putting the spotlight on the people who make great companies great: the people-people.  

People-people are crucial to the success of every company. They find you the talent that drives you forwards, and they’ve taken on an increasingly strategic role in the past few years – often taking on responsibility for mental health, diversity and inclusion, culture, EVPs, Employer Branding and team happiness. 

Read more about the Pioneers List and go behind the scenes to understand how and why we’ve selected our Pioneers.

We’re delighted to introduce you to Chris Woods, Recruitment Marketing Lead and I&D at Flexified company Mars, and one of our 2024 Pioneers. Read on to hear all about his career, his experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and his hopes for the future of work.

Let’s dig in! 

Tell us a little bit about your career history, and how you got to where you are now. What were the key milestones?

This is always a funny question for me to answer because I’ve had such a varied career to date.  I started off with a degree in Sports Science, quickly decided that being a PE teacher wasn’t for me, and so found myself in a student events and marketing role, which I absolutely loved (mainly because I had complete flexibility to operate how I liked), ended up being made redundant from that role, and so joined one of the UK’s leading charities to organise and manage one of their large event series, this wasn’t so flexible, and so I left to join the world of Recruitment, and found myself in an agency recruiting for finance professionals. 

I had a love-hate relationship with this job, and whilst I loved working so closely with people, I hated the hours and the culture in agency recruitment, and so I left and joined the dark side (in house) as a direct Sourcer.  In this role I found myself at Mars, and that’s where I really fell in love with Employer Brand and Recruitment marketing.  Mars gave me the flexibility to take on passion projects outside of my role, and so I began re-designing job ads and working on some social media projects, next thing I know I’m managing the UK and Irish Employer Brand on a maternity cover, and I’ve grown ever since then, until now, where I’m lucky enough to lead a team of amazingly talented people helping Mars to attract the talent we need to grow and build a truly diverse and equitable organisation.   

What’s the biggest impact flexible working has had on your own life?

I appreciate this may seem trivial, but before flexible working, I lived in a town I didn’t like, purely for convenience of being close to work. Now, I live in my dream location in the Cotswolds, I can spend time with my wife and friends, and can manage my own life.  It’s had such an immeasurable impact on my mental health, which in turn has led to progression at work, because I’m able to manage my diary in a way which works for my own productivity!

When did you first become interested in flexible working?

After working in recruitment agencies and being required to be in an office 5 days a week, whilst also being the first in and last out. I found myself exhausted by the hour-long commute, and 12 hour days, which then went on to affect everything else I did outside of work, which just didn’t really fit with my belief that we work to live, not the other way round.  When I then started in Employer Reputation, and COVID hit, and the world started to see how impactful flexible working was, I immediately knew I had to use my position (and Mars’ strong stance on Flexibility) to share with the world why flexible working is so important.

What is the most impactful change that you’ve implemented?

I can’t take any credit for this one, but at Mars the biggest policy that I’ve seen implemented was equal parental leave.  It has such a huge impact on families, and seeing the response everyone had when they were able to take the time, as a family to adjust to a new baby, and as a parent or carer, not miss the flurry of ‘firsts’ in a child’s first six months of life was amazing. 

Personally, something I’m proud of is how far we’ve taken Mars in terms of talking about our flexible offering, whether that be equal parental, mental health first aiders, or just flexibility in general.

What’s the biggest challenge of being in your role right now?

Authenticity, and particularly the rise of AI.  I think when talking about flexibility, it’s vital that the stories and proof points you use are real lived experiences of your associates and employees.  AI is an amazing enhancement, and it’s great to use as a starting point for posts and creative, bit there’s a real risk that businesses that aren’t truly flexible, start to use AI to make themselves appear better to external talent markets, and so there’s a real risk that ‘the holiday doesn’t match the brochure’ and candidates can find themselves in businesses that said one thing, but deliver on another.

What do you think the next big trend is in working culture?

I mentioned this in a previous answer, and I’m not sure you can call it a trend, more a realisation, but I honestly think, especially with new generations entering the workforce, that there will be an even bigger shift toward picking a business, not just a role.  We’ll see more people realising that we work to live, and not live to work and as such they’ll start to become even more conscious about what’s offered in the way of flexibility.  I hope this comes alongside more honesty from companies and understanding that your culture doesn’t need to work for everyone, and it’s more beneficial to be honest about your flexible work offerings.

Take a look at the other Pioneers who made the list, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on new Pioneers, guides to help you navigate your strategic role, and exclusive invites to webinars and events