A lengthy and growing list of speaking engagements. Hundreds of miles logged on charity bike rides. Countless hours volunteering at industry advocacy groups. These are just a few ways Christina Riley spends almost all of her free time and vacation days in a quest to create a more welcoming workplace for people from diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ employees, veterans and people with disabilities and mental health issues.
Riley “is the leading voice in the industry on LGBT inclusion,” says Adam Smith, creative lead at Tideway London, a multi-billion-dollar, 25-kilometer sewer tunnel. As a speaker and panelist for Tideway diversity events, “Riley has spoken very openly about her experiences as a trans person. Many attendees have commented on how important it is to hear these types of stories in the industry,” Smith adds.
An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Riley had known since at least 2004 that she wanted to transition from male to female but “kept it all bottled up as a secret, which caused a lot of anxiety and mental health issues,” she says. But in 2014, her then employer, Balfour Beatty, launched an LGBTQ network, and she knew it was the right time to come out and begin her transition. She chaired the LGBTQ network there for several years. Now a senior planner at Kier Group, Riley co-chairs a similar networking group.
She also volunteers at several industry-wide LGBTQ groups in the U.K., and she is a founding member of Building Equality, a network of more than 50 large construction firms in the U.K. that fights for diversity and inclusion. Riley also founded and runs @LGBTConstruct, where she delivers dozens of toolbox talks on inclusion, safety and anti-bullying at projects like Crossrail and for owners such as Disney and Rolls-Royce. She also led workshops sponsored by the U.K.- government-funded Construction Industry Training Board.
“She has been bold in the steps that she has taken, and her openness and honesty in sharing her own journey has undoubtedly been a source of inspiration to many,” says Greg Turner-Smart, a business improvement manager at Rolls-Royce. He brought Riley in to lead trans awareness sessions to educate “our employees on issues faced by the transgender community,” and to explain how they “can support our own trans colleagues so that we create an even better workplace.”
In addition to making a more inclusive workplace to bolster recruitment and retention in the industry, “it’s really important to highlight that there’s a definite link between safety, diversity and inclusion” at the jobsite, Riley says. Through her work for charity Diversity Role Models, Riley attempts to stamp out bullying and inappropriate behavior early by speaking to hundreds of grade school students around the U.K.
“I remain amazed by the energy and enthusiasm that Christina continues to display in making engineering a more inclusive sector. She is a true role model,” Turner-Smart says.