Future Leaders: Usman Shah

Usman Shah is the founder of Diversity Hut

Diversity Hut is a unique social enterprise which works with businesses in the construction and engineering sectors to help them grow a more diverse workforce.

I am the first in my family to go university. I come from a low-income, working-class family. My parents came to the UK to ensure I had a good education. My father worked as a baker and didn’t earn much. I grew up seeing the hardship my parents would encounter to ensure they could save for my university education. But God had different plans. As a 17-year-old, I did work experience for a construction firm. They were so impressed they offered to sponsor my degree. I was also contacted by an industry trust which wanted to offer me a scholarship. Everything fell into place! I went home and told my parents that I had received both sponsorship and a scholarship, and that they could spent their savings on themselves.

I broke everyone’s heart by going into the construction industry, but then won their hearts very quickly. Among Asians, there is a belief that to become successful one must become a doctor, lawyer or an accountant. My parents gave me three options for my career: they told me I should either become a doctor, doctor or doctor. However, I was enticed by the construction industry and decided to challenge the family norms and pursue a career in construction. I remember my family being broken and telling me to re-consider. But I was adamant and what a decision it was. My career propelled upwards and my parents were won over, to an extent where my younger siblings are now in construction too.

I was told by a former colleague that Asians only work as taxi drivers or in kebab shops and that he very surprised to see me in corporate attire. If I ever needed wanted motivation to succeed this was it. But not just for me, for all Asians, for anyone from an under-represented group. We need to show that we are more than capable to do any role in the world. People need to be exposed to the impact and value of diversity in the workplace. More diversity equals more creativity!

I got tired of hearing how we have a diversity problem. I went to so many events in 2016 where all I heard was employers saying that they couldn’t find BAME or women engineers to hire. But when I stepped outside of these events and looked around me, all I saw was diversity.

So I decided to set up Diversity Hut, which helps employers in the construction and engineering industries to find skilled staff from diverse backgrounds. I look for staff in places where other people do not go – the mosques, churches, community groups and charities. Here I find a great many people just looking for the opportunity to prove themselves.

Diversity Hut has now become a leading broker of skilled and diverse staff for the construction and engineering industries. We have also diversified into offering consultancy, specific to improving knowledge and understanding of the value that a diverse set of employees can bring. Our business has been further boosted and supported by securing a place with Allia’s Serious Impact Incubator – a business support programme in East London that helps grow impact among start-ups and small businesses, particularly those with social aims. I am also key note speaker at events with the express aim of spreading the word about diversity even further!

The CV
  • CEO of Diversity Hut
  • Member of the Institute of Quality Assurance (youngest BAME chartered member)
  • Guest lecturer and speaker on diversity & entrepreneurship
  • Google scholarship, digital marketing and social media
  • Supply chain and diversity manager at Tideway East
  • Research and development lead at Costain


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