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"I was out on Liverpool's streets at 15"

BUSY: National Diversity Awards founder Paul Sesay and, inset, last year’s hosts, Richard Blackwood and Charlene White

FOUNDER OF the National Diversity Awards and a host of sister brands, Liverpool-based Paul Sesay took time out of his busy schedule to speak with The Voice about this year’s awards and his plans for 2017.

Q: What’s a typical day in the life of Paul Sesay?

A: It depends which day you’re talking about! Some of those days are laden with studying corporate diversity initiatives and seeing if they want to get involved with us – typical boss stuff. We’re in talks about organising something in Singapore. I have to keep it a secret for now, but once we get the go-ahead… London is 55 per cent Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and our studies show only eight per cent of executives and senior management in London are BAME. We think that a company’s staff should be representative of the area it’s in.

Q: Diversity at work is obviously something that you’re passionate about. Is there one particular event in your life that inspired you to set up the awards?

A: I grew up in an inner city area. I was in and out of foster homes, was out on my ear at 15 and homeless after moving from Leeds to Liverpool. At that point I met my role model - he and his wife took me in. He died at 40 and his funeral was in the largest cathedral in Europe – it was filled with well-wishers. He used to be a radio DJ and nightclub MC. I went with him, started getting paid to MC, started believing in myself and when someone starts to believe in themselves they realise there’s more to life than the streets.

Learn more about the National Diversity Awards from the video below:

Q: What can we expect from this year’s National Diversity Awards in September?

A: It’s always different because it’s the stories behind the people that make it. There are people that have lost their eyesight – one man did just that and still continued to build. He was called the blind builder. This year we are sponsored by Microsoft, Direct Line, the security services (M15 and MI6), Adidas, Price Waterhouse Coopers, The Open University, the Army, Thought Works, Kier Group and Lush who were really generous with free goodie bags for everyone last year. We want to thank The Voice for always supporting us and we will continue to do the same and support them.

Q: Is there an award-winner over the years that stands out to you?

A: There’s one, Liam Mackin, who lost his eyesight and is nearly deaf. He set up his company at 17, wrote books and went on to graduate from Cambridge. There’s also Joshua Beckford, who is the youngest child genius. He’s only about eight or nine and he’s doing university degrees – he definitely deserves more recognition.

Q: How can smaller businesses provide a robust diversity policy?

A: Be fair and equal. I honestly feel that when you give people a chance, especially if they’re from a diverse background, those people appreciate that job more than say, a white middle class person who’s never had to work for anything. They can often be more productive for the organisation. Having diverse employees can provide insight into your demographic and tell you how to sell to them. Nominations for the National Diversity Awards open in mid February and close in June.

Click here to put someone forward, write a testimonial on their behalf and show how much they have helped others. The awards ceremony takes place on September 8 in Liverpool.

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