HR Speaks with Charlotte Sword

3 Minutes

Worked in HR since: 1993Current role: Global HR Director at Foster + Partners.On a cold wet ...

Worked in HR since: 1993

Current role: Global HR Director at Foster + Partners.

On a cold wet winter’s day in December, I was lucky enough to meet with Charlotte Sword, HR Director at Foster + Partners

Charlotte and I had actually never met, but from the moment I formerly introduced myself you could tell that didn’t matter. In front of me sat an impressive HR operator that had so much passion for the organisation she worked for that it oozed out of her from the beginning of the meeting. 

 Foster + Partners is a company that puts quality at the very top of the work it does and it’s clear that the HR journey for Charlotte is one that should mirror the brand. But it hasn’t always been like that and as we got further acquainted I learnt more about how HR has been developed and refined at Foster + Partners. 


What is your biggest people challenge? 

 The movement of people all over the world. 89% of the projects that we are involved in are outside of the UK. This means we require great movement of people and flexible employment contracts. Brexit is a definite issue for us due to it potentially preventing the freedom of movement that underpins the projects we’re involved in.


Has HR always been this highly regarded?

 No, when I first joined over 3 years ago HR wasn’t seen as being part of the business, but now (after some hard cultural changes) we are. The business has even started to get us involved in the bidding process for new projects, which just shows how far we’ve come. 


So does that mean your job is done? 

 Not at all! Over the next 3 years we are striving to be voted as one of the best places to work, we have a leadership programme that we have just launched and we need to improve our diversity. 


Is Diversity an issue?

 Yes, I feel that we lose women at a certain stage in their lives and we have to find a way to stop that. We could also point to a lack of ethnic diversity and that will mean that we need to think more broadly about how we get a more diverse workforce coming through.

Talking about HR more generically, what is your biggest frustration with the industry? 

Jargon! Sometimes I feel that HR can be too clever for its own good and a lot of the time it doesn’t need to be. Keep it simple.

What advice would you give to a CEO about working with HR? 

Don’t always think about the facts and the figures. There is a people element to every business that needs to be heard and sometimes you will only get that from a good debate. When it comes to people and emotions, things will never go smoothly but if you work with someone you trust you can overcome a lot of problems. 

What advice would you give to your fellow HR peers? 

 Talking will only get you so far. Make sure that after the discussions you go away and deliver on the things you have discussed. 

 For the final 15 minutes of my visit Charlotte showed me around their offices, where they display architectural models of the buildings they’ve designed. They’re remarkable to say the least and you can’t help but be impressed. 

Ultimately though that all that work is underpinned by the people who work hard behind the scenes, and in Charlotte’s HR team, they now have a function that truly matches the amazing buildings they design.

 ‘’HR Speaks’’ is an Elliott Scott series where we interview individuals with a unique and remarkable HR career to get their perspective on various areas of interest in the industry. 

If you would like to be considered for our “HR Speaks” series please get in touch with me at