Breaking down some of the biggest barriers in construction, Christina Riley, senior planner at building contractor Quinn London, has been awarded Role Model of the Year at UK Construction Week (UKCW).

Christina has worked in the construction industry for 30 years for Tier 1 contractors such as Balfour Beatty and Kier, initially in site engineering and management roles, and more recently as a senior planner.

Recognised for her high-profile campaigning work around equality, diversity and inclusion in construction since coming out as transgender in 2014, Christina is a well-known ambassador for STEM careers, LGBTQ+ rights and promotes increased awareness around disability, non-visible disability and neurodiversity too. Christina is co-founder of Building Equality (LGBTQ+ network), Construct-Ability (educating on non-visible disabilities) and EDI Construct (campaigning on diversity and inclusion). She is also a FIR (Fairness, Inclusion and Respect) ambassador with the Supply Chain Sustainability School, supported by the CITB.

The UKCW Role Models awards scheme provides both personal and wider community benefit, offering a student and college contact programme, as well as a public platform to professionals of any age and background. It presents a way for them to network, teach, and share inspiring stories and invaluable experiences of how they came into their career, what it entails, their journey so far, and why they love what they do.

Nathan Garnett, UKCW event director, said: “It was a pretty clear decision. Christina’s career and campaigning filled the judges with pride and inspiration about what is possible in this sector, and how one person can use their story to force an industry to confront its prejudices and misunderstandings.

“All the UKCW Role Models are inspiring people who have a strong story to tell and can help to attract others into similar roles. They also act as mentors. Previous years’ Role Models have been out visiting schools and meeting young people to encourage them into construction as a rewarding career.

“There can of course only be one winner, but all those shortlisted can be proud of the hard work, dedication and ultimately, the change that they are bringing to the construction industry.”

Introducing the awards ceremony, Anjali Pindoria, project surveyor at Avi Contracts and the previous Role Model of the Year from UKCW’s 2019 show, was asked about her views on the future of construction. She said: “I’m positive because I can see so many people here doing great things. My message to everyone in the industry is to keep on inspiring one person at a time. Find that fire in them, help them achieve their potential, and you know you’ve accomplished something.”

Christina was then presented with her award by Charlie Luxton, architectural designer and television presenter.

He said: “The building industry has to transform, and staggeringly quickly, to tackle the challenges we’re facing on issues such as climate change. But this also means we need different, more diverse people represented in construction to challenge the traditional ways things are done, and we need to build a fairer, more equitable industry. This is what Christina is working so hard to achieve.”

Christina said:

“Culture change is coming. For example, there is greater visibility for women in construction today than there used to be. However, there is still so much more work to do, across additional issues such as ethnicity, disabilities and LGBTQ+ identities. Awards like this raise awareness of the vital importance of inclusion too – the way that more diverse people, sitting in the room, are fully listened to and experience a genuine sense of belonging in this industry.

“We are facing a massive skills shortage and tackling these issues will bring many benefits to business and society. I want to see the day when all people have equal opportunities to progress and to reach the Boardroom.

“It’s a privilege to be able to become a role model for other talented people who can find wonderful careers in construction.”

UK Construction Week has featured a busy programme of content this year focusing on diversity issues, health and wellbeing. Key speakers included Rick Lee OBE, chief people officer at Willmott Dixon, who gave a keynote presentation about the contractor’s journey to becoming a truly inclusive employer. And in the ‘Future of Construction’ series of talks on the UKCW main stage, sponsored by COINS, the event looked in detail at how construction can improve health and wellbeing, including changing attitudes around mental health.

UK Construction Week has one more day to run at the NEC in Birmingham, before moving to London next May and then a return to the NEC in October 2022.

To get regular updates on the event, including safety protocols and new features, follow UKCW on social media using the hashtag #UKCW2021.