Aspire2lead (A2L) is an exciting new project part-funded by the European Social Fund. The project aims to provide free support to women to boost their skills and confidence, achieve their potential and contribute to the growth of businesses in the York and North Yorkshire LEP Area. The Opportunity Centre is working in partnership with Beyond 2030 and Yorkshire In Business to deliver a range of services with a holistic approach for individuals and organisations to suit their needs and goals.

Want to know what is available?

Read more about each of the services delivered by Aspire2Lead

Who can access these services?

Participants must:

  • have the right to live and work in the UK
  • be living or working in the York and North Yorkshire area
  • be aged over 19
  • be employed or Self-employed


Leadership Training

The Women Leadership Training strand is delivered by Beyond 2030 and engages women at all levels within organisations.  The programme includes workshops, group training, peer coaching,  One-to-One mentoring and webinars. Topics available to help women to gain the tools and confidence to progress into senior positions in work include:

  • Identifying barriers to progression
  • Strategies for influence and impact
  • Speaking tools and techniques
  • People management
  • Effective networking
  • Confidence Building
  • Building brands in a digital world
  • Self-mastery with emotional correctness
  • Handling challenge and change
  • Employment Law 

Women Returner Support

Women Returner Support is delivered by Anj Handa of Inspiring Women Changemakers, and directly focuses on delivering support to individuals by building and developing CVs to address potential gaps, upskilling individuals to reflect changing working practises, bringing them up to speed from their time away from work, providing personal development and giving support to build confidence and encourage professional networking. The strand is delivered through a series of training workshops and seminars.


We are showcasing the high level talent amongst women from across York and North Yorkshire through building a team of Women Ambassadors from the corporate world through self-employed women. The common thread is that they all want to support other women to maximise their potential be it at work, in business or public life.

Leading discussions on topics that primarily  impact women, they will give their perspective and offer tips and techniques as well as “what works” from their own experience.

Aspire2lead Networks

Everyone can join in our Aspire2lead monthly networking groups. Held on line and over lunchtime, these are must attend events for women to build confidence, connections and to  gain access to  our Women Ambassadors  taking away valuable knowledge to help their own careers grow media groups and pages, and in-person events.

We aim to build a community of women supporting one another to succeed.

Aspiring Young Women 

The Aspiring Young Women strand targets employed young women aged 19-30, with a focus on helping them to aim higher in their career aspirations. Each training package is tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Training sessions are delivered by Anj Handa of Inspiring Women Changemakers. The objective is to support women in all levels of employment, to boost confidence, self-esteem and progress more women into management. The programme includes the following:

  • Careers information and guidance, including identification of progression opportunities
  • Basic skills qualifications
  • Development of confidence and support progression
  • Half day essential skills workshops
  • Peer learning for support progression and aspirations
  • Our aspiring leadership programme with a range of L2 and L3 modules as an unregulated qualification
  • Leadership and Management master-classes for aspiring managers.



Delivered by Yorkshire in Business, the Women Entrepreneur strand of the programme aims to inspire the creation of new enterprises and to support the sustainment of existing enterprises. They are supporting employed or already self-employed women in business  for approximately 3 months. The programme will work with these participants to start, develop and grow their own businesses by identifying and overcoming barriers to progress. The Yorkshire in Business team will support the individuals to develop bespoke solutions and identify innovative delivery methods for their business. In particular we look to develop female business owners and senior women who want to develop their careers in micro/SMEs around leadership and management focusing on strategy, growth and business scale up. 


Yorkshire in Business aims to enhance personal development skills such as confidence and self-esteem; alongside those that are needed to successfully run businesses like financial planning, marketing and project management. Interventions are based on the needs and demands of the clients, and delivery is through their expert team of facilitators and coaches. A typical programme may include pre-programme personal and business needs analysis, four face to face workshops, six One-to-One acceleration coaching sessions, monthly webinars and access to online content.

Who can access these services?

Participants must have less than 250 employees.

Women ‘Returnships’ 

Women Returnships works with SMEs to provide structured support for their female staff returning to work from a career break. We begin with an assessment of an SMEs Return to Work offer, identifying any gaps and areas for development. Best practice will then be identified that is appropriate for the business and a development of a Returnship programme will commence. Aspire2Lead will then support the implementation and evaluation of a programme to help returners to transition back into work. This programme will be tailored and flexible, potentially including adapting job roles to provide more flexibility, or offering part-time roles for staff returning after a career break.

Gender Pay Gap

Delivered by Beyond 2030, this service utilises their extensive research experience and builds on current gender pay gap analysis activities with larger organisations, to support SMEs in York and North Yorkshire in addressing their own gender pay gaps. SMEs undertake consultation and data collection from staff responsible for HR and strategy within the business once engaged.  This identifies how the business deals with recruitment, promotion and staff development, and specific businesses challenges/barriers to reducing gender pay issues.

This research enables them to analyse and identify any gender pay gaps, alongside specific issues that can be addressed. A joint action planning approach will then be taken with the SME , which will incorporate good practice from businesses in the same sector. 

The action plan can include:

  • Specific actions to address issues
  • On-going targets to pay-gap reductions
  • Ownership of the action plan by senior management, with clear responsibility for its achievement within the management team
  • Monitoring systems and processes established, including reporting to board.
 Organisational Transformation

The Organisational Transformation strand supports SMEs to understand how their current practices can be adapted to benefit their organisation by supporting women to progress. The self-assessment process encourages organisations to evaluate their business, to examine and understand the impact of their working practices and environment on recruitment, retention, and progression of women. The range of evaluation can include:

  • Recruitment practices
  • Impact of unconscious bias
  • Availability of and attitudes towards flexible and part time work
  • Values and culture that present barriers to the progression and retention of women
  • Availability of training packages that address issues 

Following the outcomes of assessment, a tailored approach is taken, working closely with the HR department of the organisation to create an action plan to tackle areas requiring adjustment or improvement. 


The Sponsorship Programme supports SMEs to design, run and embed sponsorship programmes which link senior male colleagues with junior female colleagues to champion their progression within the business. We encourage SMEs to link with other businesses to share best practice and provide peer support for sponsorship. We will work with businesses using the research we have undertaken and tailor the programme to suit them as appropriate. We will:

  • Identify opportunities for peer sponsorship by linking businesses together
  • Support the implementation of sponsorships in to the company’s offer for to their employees
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of established sponsorship programmes
  • Share good practice of sponsorships with other SMEs

Gender Stereotypes 

Delivered by Beyond 2030, the Tackling Gender Stereotypes programme targets SMEs in male-dominated sectors such as Construction, Technical, IT/Communications and Science and businesses.  They also focus on specific growing industries in York and North Yorkshire which are typically male dominated such as bio-renewables, agri-tech, manufacturing and engineering. These industries may have a concentration of women at lower pay grades but senior positions are skewed towards men. In this strand, Beyond 2030 will undertake consultations and collect data from staff responsible for HR and strategy within businesses and groups of businesses.

This research will allow the analysis and identification of any issues, barriers, or opportunities regarding Gender Stereotyping amongst SMEs in the region. This information forms a joint action planning approach with the, which incorporates sharing good practice both globally and from the other project participants.  The action plan includes:

  • Specific actions to address gender imbalance issues and increase the number of women within the workforce and in senior positions
  • On-going targets and commitments
  • Ownership of the action plan by senior management, with clear responsibility for its achievement within the business
  • Monitoring systems and processes established, including reporting to, where, relevant the board/SMT.

Influencer Training

The Influencer Training aims to encourage young women and girls to be ambitious and aim for senior leadership positions, by tackling unconscious bias. Training is targeted at teaching and support staff and adapted to suit audiences from schools, colleges and universities.

Our training provides a background and insight into unconscious bias and how it impacts women and young girls.  It includes careers resources, LMI, lesson plans that challenge stereotypes and raise aspirations, hints and tips on
inviting senior women into their establishment to share their experiences and activities for teachers, employers and students to get involved with. Staff receive a training package and ‘train the trainer’ workshops demonstrating how
the packages and resources can be used in different ways and adapted to suit different target audiences i.e. girls interested in STEM, from different cultures and for different academic abilities.

We also address the influences of parents and carers. We provide CPD resources and teaching aids (LMI/CEIAG) to deliver outputs across the full geographic area – delivering innovative and thought provoking CPD provision to educators and practitioners in Primary, Secondary, Special, Colleges and HEI’s. Lastly, we provide information to parents and carers of girls and young women – challenging gender bias, gender stereotyping, misinformation and misconceptions – allowing us to build a platform for change across some of our most disadvantaged districts.

Staff members – Schools, Colleges and Universities can put forward a number of their staff members to access the whole Aspire2Lead service. See Services for individuals section. 

A2L offers group training and one-to-one support to employed/self-employed women to tackle specific barriers to progress and help them advance within the workforce. The project also supports Small and Medium Enterprises to boost their productivity by adapting policies and procedures to improve inclusivity and attract and retain high-quality employees in their workforce. Schools, colleges and universities can also access influencer training which aims to encourage young women and girls to be ambitious and aim for senior leadership positions by tackling unconscious bias. 

Please note, for individuals to be eligible, they must be in employment, have the right to live and work in the UK and be 19 years of age or above. Businesses must be able to prove that they have fewer than 250 employees to receive support.


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