With the right team and support around him, Richy’s finally free to be his true, proud, authentic self
Whether he’s leading teams on site, or tendering new work from head office, Richy Walker was built for a career in construction.
Joining the industry as an apprentice at a local electrical firm as a teenager, he’s never looked back – a position which proved to be more than just a job when his family kicked him out after unearthing his hidden sexuality at aged 20. No longer welcome at his family home in Birmingham, and with nowhere else to turn, Richy looked to his boss to help him build a new life in London.
With the homophobia he’d experienced – and the consequences of this – weighing heavy at a time when it wasn’t the norm to be an open LGBTQIA+ person on site, Richy kept a close lid on his identity, relationships, and life outside project doors.
Over the span of his career, Richy’s seen a lot of positive change in the industry and in society more broadly. And when he joined ISG in 2021, it was the spark he needed to break free from the falsehoods he’d built up in the past.
Joining a corporate that prioritises and values inclusivity and belonging, and supported by a team of proud colleagues behind him, Richy’s courageously trailblazing; to encourage everybody to celebrate diversity and inspire more LGBTQIA+ people to have the confidence to be themselves.
Senior technical services manager at ISG, Richy Walker, was born to work in the built environment. From the day he was old enough to handle a toolkit he was hooked, forever curious about how things were built and operated.
“Some of my earliest memories were of my parents telling me off for giving myself electric shocks,” says Richy. “My family always knew I’d work in construction; I never showed an interest in anything else.”
On track to pursue his childhood dream, Richy’s teenage years saw him taking on an apprenticeship in electrical and power installation with local college, Handsworth Technical College. It was during this time that he was hired for his first site-based role, at a local electrical firm to support his apprenticeship studies.
Richy reminisces on the fond memories he holds for his first job and the relationships he made there; relationships which proved to be invaluable when Richy’s personal life was turned upside down, and at aged 20, he was forced to leave home.
He shares: “I was 20 when my family found out I was gay. My brother had suspicions and followed me out one night where he saw me going into a local gay club. When I got home, I saw a bag of my things at the front door and that was it, my family were kicking me out.”
With nowhere else to go, he turned to the ‘family’ unit he’d built for himself from his workplace. Telling his boss that he’d fallen out with his relatives and needed to move away, his employer sent him down to London where Richy was given his first site management role for the children’s retailer, Toys ‘R’ Us. “While my boss knew I’d been kicked out, I never told him why. Being open about your sexuality was not the done thing in those days.”
Over the course of the next 30 years, Richy’s career in London grew from strength to strength. Climbing the ranks of the built environment ladder in both office and site-based roles, from estimating and pre-construction to technical services and MEP management.
But while Richy thrived professionally, his personal life remained a secret to those around him. He shares that, for the majority of his career, Richy didn’t openly discuss his sexuality for fear of judgement, awkwardness, or even worse feedback from his peers.
Recalling the experience and the guilt he felt for lying about his interests outside of work, and the gender of his previous partners, Richy remembers the struggle of concealing his sexual identity at work and how the truth getting out could have impacted the way others behaved around him.
He says: “This industry has historically and stereotypically been dominated by straight men. That sense of ‘masculine / heterosexual’ energy has – again historically – not made it the easiest place for gay men to open up.
“I’ve always thought, wouldn’t it be great if one day I could be bold enough to have a picture on my desk of me and my husband? In the same way that other men have pictures of themselves with their wives and kids.”
But this struggle hit a turning point when Richy joined ISG in 2021. For the first time in his working life, he is completely out about his sexuality and expresses the sense of euphoria he feels in finally being true to himself.
“I decided that if I was ever going to be open about who I am then this (ISG) was the place to do it and I’m so glad I have,” he comments. “If you’re in a situation where you feel you can come out then it’s important that you do, because it opens doors for so many more people to feel comfortable in doing so.”
Technical services director for ISG's UK fit out division, Nicola Coughlin, adds: “I take great pride in seeing Richy develop his confidence in being able to speak openly about the challenges he has had to overcome. ISG has allowed him to feel comfortable in expressing himself without being judged, which is a real testament to the company’s culture and values. Richy and I continue to have conversations on this topic, and it’s brilliant to see the barriers that historically surrounded him are starting to break down.”
Expressing his gratitude that workplaces are becoming more progressive, Richy reflects on how the negativity of his past differs to the open-mindedness and kindness of the teams he’s worked with at ISG. Humbled that his honest depictions of workplace homophobia and speaking out about how he would’ve liked to have been treated in the past have allowed more people around him to open up and ask for advice on sexuality and identity, either for themselves or their loved ones.
Head of inclusion and wellbeing at ISG, Nicke Harrison, celebrates Richy’s honesty: “It can take a lot of courage to reveal your identity to the world when you don’t know how it will be received, and I’m really pleased that Richy feels able to be himself at ISG. It’s so important to me that we (at ISG) not only raise awareness of diversity in all its forms – but that we actually celebrate it. And it’s important we remain proactive in ensuring we create a diverse and inclusive work environment that enables everyone to thrive and feel a sense of belonging”.
While the industry still has a way to go to be fully inclusive of everyone, Richy, also a member of ISG’s LGBTQIA+ network, is hopeful for what the future may hold for other young people joining the construction industry from the LGBTQIA+ community.
“The construction industry is reshaping itself to be a more inclusive space for people of different sexual orientations and identities,” he says. “It’s wonderful to think that the next generation stand a better chance of working with people that have more closely linked interests and experiences to themselves. That’s something I desperately craved when I was at the early stages of my career.”
Now happily married to Danni – a psychologist from Columbia – Richy celebrates the love of his life for being a positive role model in championing staying true to oneself.
Richy simply puts: “From a professional capacity, I wanted to share my story so that people know we’re building something special here, where it’s safe to talk openly about who you are. But in my personal life? My husband has always made me feel empowered to be my most authentic self; I’m a lucky man.”