James Hopkins is an assistant site manager within our Construction Western & Wales business. Here, James shares his very personal story on being a gay man within the construction industry and how he went from keeping his sexuality a secret in the workplace to being able to bring his whole self to work.
“When I first started working in construction, I was in a very different role and company, working as an apprentice carpenter on small refurbishment projects locally in South Wales. As a gay man, I made the choice to keep my sexuality to myself in work, however outside of work I was very much open. Although this decision was horrendous to carry out, I did it for what I felt was good reason as ultimately, I felt I was just not able to bring my full self to work during this time.
"In work, it wouldn’t have been unusual to hear the other guys on the job call each other gay. I would often hear homosexuality be compared to paedophiles and that if their children turned out gay, they would disown them. After this, I could only be justified in feeling that I made the right decision not to disclose my sexuality as I feared I would be ridiculed or maybe even lose my job.
"It wasn’t long before I became tired and worn out with constantly listening to the comments and derogatory terms, so I’d disclosed to a friend that I was contemplating quitting and leaving the industry. I felt I would never fit in or that I would have to keep my private life separate which I’d struggled with to date, as it would often drum up old feelings of shame, anxiety and hurt. My friend told me to stick it out and find another company, so as to not waste all my previous years learning.
"Eventually after moving through a few companies, I made my way to Kier, telling myself before my interview “I’m going to be as open as I can and if I am ever able to make a difference for at least one person working on site, then I will.”
"I soon found that working for Kier was different to my previous time spent in the industry, it felt like breath of fresh air, Kier supported me and took an interest in my experiences and learnings. This led me to join the LGBTQ+ network, a colleague-led community within Kier, and with the support of the company, I joined the building equality group in Wales and even attended Swansea Pride with a Kier stall.
"I started to think how this approach and culture is really what everyone should have. It led me down the path of thinking that we as a main contractor should aim to educate those on our sites, including subcontractors, discuss and call out unappropriated behaviour and make people aware that words and actions have implications that maybe unseen by themselves but cause damage to another in the name of banter.
"I have been studying for a degree and as part of my dissertation I carried out a survey with people, who have or used to work within the construction industry, of the 100 respondents, 92 of which currently working within industry, 39% have experienced workplace discrimination. And yet, 75% of people felt targeting a more diverse workforce would bring about positive changes and attitude towards the industry.
"I felt heard and listened to when Kier launched its Expect Respect campaign last year, which made clear what language and behaviours were acceptable on our sites, offices, and depots. This extended to our supply chain and site managers across the country held ToolBox talks to ensure expectations were clear. There are posters on sites, and they clearly show what’s not ok. This means a lot to know that a no-tolerance approach is what the whole Group backs so openly.
"For me, I have more confidence in being able to call people out, but rather than argue, I simply discuss with them and explain how it could affect others, sometimes raising my past experiences, which would often shock people and hopefully make them think twice about how they represent themselves.
"This month, I joined a cohort of 20 colleagues who are part of Kier’s empower programme, a nine-month programme which allows diverse groups to come together, share experiences and help drive further change at Kier. I am inspired by my colleagues already and I really feel like I am going to learn lots and help Kier with attracting and retaining diverse talent, which also supports another finding in my dissertation that
"Collectively, as an industry, we have a responsibility to think about the future of our sites, projects, and contracts – and attracting diverse talent and harnessing an inclusive culture so everyone feels able to bring their whole selves to work.
"Today, I can bring my whole self to work and it’s truly liberating.”