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HR Excellence Awards 2009: BT's Caroline Waters awarded HR director of the year

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Caroline Waters, director of people and policy at BT was awarded HR director of the year in the HR excellence awards 2009.

Since Caroline Waters took up the role of director, people and policy at BT group four years ago she has been a tireless campaigner for better working practices at both the telecoms giant and across business as a whole.

She is one of the pioneers in the adoption of innovative approaches to workforce management and her enthusiasm for the benefits of work-life balance are unrivalled. In particular, Waters has been unflagging in her efforts to demonstrate that flexible working is good for business. A high-profile leader in this area, she has been vocal over the past year in showing the business results BT has delivered through embracing smart working.

But it is Waters' activity in relation to care that really marked her out in 2008. A long-time supporter of the need for employers to play a role in helping employees with caring responsibilities, she chairs the new Employers for Carers membership forum. It is supported by Carers UK and is designed to deliver hands-on advice to employers about supporting the UK's three million working carers. She is also a passionate campaigner on the issue and has gained the ear of politicians from all parties.

Despite a spate of high profile redundancies at BT as the group restructures, Waters has also spoken out about the need to be mindful of not targeting people who have 'different' working practices in order to reduce costs in the recession. "Working smarter and more flexibly is essential during difficult times. It makes business sense to keep skilled and experienced employees and avoid the costs or recruitment and retraining later," she has said. "Whether the economic climate is good or bad, it does not change the fact that we have a rapidly ageing population and that caring responsibilities are going to grow."

Her understanding of the implications of an ageing workforce meant she was an obvious choice to be the first chair of the advisory board of the Ageing Lab, launched earlier this year by Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts. BT is a leading employer when it comes to an ageing workforce and was awarded an international innovative employer award by not-for-profit membership organisation AARP in 2008 in recognition of its employment practices towards older workers. The company's youngest employee is 16 and oldest 75, marking an age gap of nearly 60 years.

Waters herself joined BT at the age of 16. Her current role focuses on creating tomorrow's customers and employees, revenue generation through empowered people and BT's inclusivity strategy, as well as ensuring BT's people policies underpin these strategic drivers. Her policy responsibilities include human resources process design and re-engineering for employment, strategic skills and equality and diversity.

Her unwavering support for diversity is clear from the list of bodies Waters works with outside of BT. She regularly provides advice and guidance to government and industry and is a member of the employers for work-life balance advisory group, the Equal Opportunities Commission's investigation advisory boards into pregnancy discrimination and flexible and part-time working and the Scope diversity works board among others.

She is also on the Dignity at Work Partnership steering group, the Ambition:IT steering group a director of the Stichting permits board.

Only last month Race for Opportunity found BT to be the most race-diverse employer in a study of race diversity trends across a total of 1.5 million employees.

All this has already gained Waters a place in HR's Most Influential practitioners ranking and it is no surprise she jumped up eight places to number eight in this year's list. Now her enthusiastic and creative approach means she can add HR Director of the Year to her list of accolades.

As she herself said last year: "[At the moment] there is an artificial emphasis on the way people work, instead of what they do. But hierarchies are dying, and thank God. It's a great new world in which to be an HR person."

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