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Paul Sesay on why diversity and inclusivity of all kinds needs to get out of its silos and be more intersectional.
Paul Sesay has spent over 20 years working to foreground the importance of diversity and inclusion. While his approach has always been intersectional, he argues that there is a need to reframe much of the current diversity and inclusion work to move away from specific labels and to a more holistic approach with equity at its heart.
Paul first got involved with Diversity & Inclusion work back in the 2000s when he worked for an organisation that published the Diverse magazine in Liverpool for Black History Month. He really enjoyed the work and in 2006 he started The Diversity Group after a stint working for an organisation which he felt was not authentic about inclusion and saw it as a cash cow. “I wanted to make an impact on society,” he says.
The Diversity Group got off the ground quickly and aimed to eliminate barriers within employment, education and training for minority groups in the UK. The Group connected minority communities with organisations that could help them and served to educate organisations about inclusion. It set up an annual Diversity Group Directory which was sent out to schools, libraries, job centres, youth and community groups, city and race equality councils and citizen’s advice bureaus. It includes current information about equal rights, current legislation and helpful links for people who need advice on specific problems. In addition it organised recruitment fairs throughout the UK.
In 2012 Paul decided to set up the National Diversity Awards to promote community organisations and role models that do not get the recognition they deserve. He was inspired in part by a man who helped him rebuild his confidence when he first came to Liverpool from Leeds and was homeless with just £20 in his pocket. “He believed in me,” he says simply. When he died the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool was full of well wishers, with people standing outside too. “He didn’t know what a role model he was. It got me thinking about the need to reward role models in society before it is too late,” says Paul.
In 2017, Paul wanted to go a step further. He set up the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers to bring all different kinds of inclusion together. He said that, at the time, there were different awards to benchmark employers for inclusion related to specific areas such as race or disability. “I felt everyone had to be included. There was a lot of separation and kneejerk reactions, with employers doing one thing at a time,” says Paul.
On the side of the awards, Paul continues to advise on Diversity and Inclusion and has recently set up Precedent Group, a recruitment services company with a special focus on D & I. He thinks intersectionality and a focus on equality of opportunity regardless of background and equity are the way forward rather than silos.
For that reason he believes D & I needs to be woven into all the other D & I forums, including age. “Employers need to strip back D & I to move forward,” he says. He cites his experience of being the only black male out of 100 organisations at a recent LGBTQ+ networking event, adding that showed the need for employers to question why black LGBTQ+ people were not coming forward and the need to liaise better across network groups. “We need an overarching inclusion network,” says Paul, who also writes sports news for The Voice. “We need to simplify things and educate each other. Life is about learning new things.”
For instance, bringing older and younger workers together can bring ‘exponential growth’, he says, capitalising on the wealth of knowledge and experience of older people and the imagination of the young. “It’s a beautiful thing,” he states. “The culture within organisations needs to break down stereotypes. We need to employ people from all backgrounds and at all levels.”
He adds that diversity needs to derive from equity or there will only be shallow progress. He cites the response to the killing of George Floyd, saying there has been progress in getting more people from minorities into senior positions, but many complain they are not getting the best projects or face bias. “That is not equity,” says Paul and it means people will only progress so far. He adds that many initiatives, such as anti-bullying drives, only affect head offices rather than frontline operational staff.
He says the National Diversity Awards represent the whole country and celebrate all forms of diversity. “We celebrate each other and we celebrate our differences. There is strength in diversity,” he says.
“Since I started in Diversity & Inclusion, it has always been about integration and intersectionality. I have never wavered,” he states.