A sales consultant in Bishop’s Stortford has spoken of his admiration for his employer in embracing the LGBTQ+ community but says further changes are needed within the construction industry to support colleagues.
Vistry Group’s Ben Franklin, based at the housebuilder’s Stortford Fields sales hub and who covers Linden Homes’ Finches Park location, in Frinton-on-Sea, said he was delighted Vistry was celebrating Pride Month and that the company’s support shouldn’t be underestimated.
But Ben, who is a member of Vistry’s Diversity & Inclusion Working Group, said continuous training was needed across the construction sector to keep up with changing attitudes and while behaviours had improved, no employee complaints should be ignored.
Ben married husband Jamie on Valentine’s Day in 2014 and the pair now live in a three-bedroom Linden Homes property at Finches Park. It’s a very different scenario from when he formerly left a housebuilder after reporting bullying from site colleagues and no action being taken.
The former British Airways crew manager, who joined the housebuilding industry in 2014, said: “Vistry celebrating Pride this month is a huge positive and shouldn’t be underestimated. There aren’t many developers out there doing the same.
“I felt the housebuilding industry was behind the times in terms of inclusivity when I joined. At previous housebuilders I’ve worked for, I had issues with site team members and was made to feel very uncomfortable. Nothing was ever said to me, but there was always an undertone and it affected me personally. I went through an awful time and was bullied by people at the site I was working for and it broke me. But I stayed, perhaps foolishly. I didn’t know what to do – I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin at the time – to just be me. It wasn’t managed very well by my employer and it was brushed under the carpet, so I was left thinking ‘this doesn’t feel right’ – in the end I left the company.
“The industry does feel like it’s in a different place now and with Vistry’s focus on diversity and inclusion being driven from all sides, from within and outside the company, top to bottom, I think attitudes have changed and we’re more accepting of everyone. Before there was no clear policy in place and there were old fashioned beliefs. It’s still there to an extent – there may not be a lot of openly gay construction team members, but I think that will change in the future and the way Vistry is managing this is great and we’re moving in the right direction.
“My confidence has increased hugely, so if I can sense somebody looks uncomfortable then I know it’s them and not me. I’ve changed how I go about things, people do surprise you and I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect but there are ways to improve the situation within the housebuilding industry and beyond. There have been great strides in terms of attitudes within the country.”
Ben trained as a dancer at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds but later injured his Achilles tendon, which put a stop to his career. He joined the airline industry and met Jamie while working at British Airways. He told his dad he was gay at the age of 21 after putting the conversation off but said his family had been fully behind him.
Ben has recently undertaken online D&I courses in his spare time and added safe spaces and transparency would improve workspaces and encourage inclusion in the industry further.
“I came out to my Dad when I was 21, it was difficult as my brother is also gay and had already come out,” he said. “I was living in Leeds while at dance school, so held off from telling him as I could avoid that conversation while being away. Eventually I moved back home and basically just told him. My family are amazingly supportive. My mindset is very different now I am older and am open about my sexuality.
“Having discussions, being open, marking events and having regular training are going to improve behaviours within housebuilding even more. As long as everyone stays onboard with what they’ve learnt and actions that. I’ve done a lot of research outside of work on this. Some organisations have social groups outside of working hours – a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community within the company to get together to discuss what’s happening and how they’re feeling. That’s great because it doesn’t cost the business anything, it just takes a bit of time to organise. We need a better support network, that’s key, so we all feel safe – I’m really passionate about this.”
Contact: Chris Campbell, Vistry Group, 01242 388713; email@example.com.
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