A former budding jockey from Newmarket, who switched horses for houses, has praised the construction industry for supporting the LGBT+ community, but says more still needs to be done.
Verity MacMahon, land director at Vistry East Midlands, left school with the aim of becoming a professional jockey, before turning to housebuilding, and admits she hid her sexuality for the first couple of years of her career.
Speaking during LGBT+ History Month, Verity, who worked at stables which kept thoroughbreds for the Queen, becoming good friends with top rider Hayley Turner, says male-orientated work environments have sometimes been a challenge, but she has not felt any barriers in her current land role.
Verity, who is based in the Peterborough office and is responsible for land acquisitions in Cambridgeshire and across the East Midlands, said: “My sexuality wasn’t something I was very open about and I kept work and my personal life very separate. In hindsight, I probably thought it would affect my career progression in housebuilding if people knew I was gay. I did keep it to myself and then as time went on and I grew into my career and progressed, I felt more comfortable opening up about it. I could see younger people joining the construction industry and thought it’s not something that should be hidden away, and it doesn’t make any difference to the job.
“I’ve felt very lucky that I haven’t experienced any barriers in housebuilding. There was the very odd comment looking back. I’ve definitely realised in recent years that it’s more important to be open about your sexuality and things are naturally changing anyway. We’re in 2021 and I think it’s great that people do feel they can be more open.
“Attitudes have progressed in housebuilding and other sectors as time has gone on. But the industry can definitely do more. Vistry is a company that is open and diverse and as we see more and more people from diverse backgrounds coming into the industry, I’ve seen the culture changing, which is positive but we are still lagging behind compared to some sectors.
“History is the reason things are the way they are and by marking LGBT+ History Month, we’re showing we can learn from that. It’s easy to see why people might not want to be so open and we can’t forget what’s gone on before us, to make people feel more inclusive. If it wasn’t for what brave people have done in the past, things could be very different now.
Verity left school at 16 to go to the British Racing School. After an eight-week residential course, she went to Roger Charlton’s Beckhampton House Stables in Wiltshire, with the dream of progressing as an apprentice jockey, and then moved back to Newmarket where she hoped for further opportunities.
Realising she wouldn’t succeed as a jockey and wanting a career change, Verity took a land secretary job in 2006 as part of an eight-strong land team at a local housebuilder, having enjoyed a week’s work experience at an estate agency while at school. She progressed to assistant land buyer within a year but the financial crash meant the office she worked at later closed. Verity went back into horseracing to work for trainers at well-known stables in the town and accompanied horses to major meetings like Royal Ascot.
“Newmarket is where everything horseracing is and it is definitely home for me,” she added. “After another year in horseracing during the recession, I found it difficult to progress and it was tough for a female to make it as a jockey, despite the exception of Hayley Turner, who was breaking down barriers as the country’s leading female jockey. It was a very male-dominated environment.”
Verity continues to follow her equine passion by having a share in a racehorse and rides regularly during the summer for a racehorse trainer in Newmarket. She recently competed in a charity race in the town and hopes to ride in The Property Race Day, at Ascot, in the near future.
“Working in horseracing was great fun, but I knew I was never going to make it as a jockey,” she said. “Having had a taste of land and housebuilding, I always wanted to get back into the industry and I wrote to almost every housebuilder and land promoter within an hour of home asking if there were any vacancies for an assistant land buyer.”
Verity re-joined the housebuilding industry in 2011 and has worked her way up from assistant land buyer to land director, having spent time since working for several housebuilders.
“While female jockeys are still in the minority, horseracing is definitely changing and we’ve also seen some great strides in housebuilding,” Verity added. “Having left school at 16 and gone straight into the workplace, in male-dominated environments, it has pushed me in my career to get where I am now and I am grateful to work with a supportive board of directors and wider team. I’ve dealt with different types of people at all levels and difference is embraced a lot more now.”
Contact: Chris Campbell, Vistry Group, 01242 388713; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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