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Aspire2lead (A2L) is an exciting new project part-funded by the European Social Fund. The project is designed to address gender inequality and support women to achieve their potential and contribute to the growth of businesses in the York and North Yorkshire LEP Area. Aspire-igen are working in partnership with Beyond 2030 and Yorkshire In Business to deliver a range of support with a holistic approach, with each individual or organisation able to access a number of strands on offer to suit their needs and goals.

Through a package of 12 inter-connected interventions, A2L offers training and support to employed/self-employed women to tackle specific barriers to equality and enable them to progress in the workforce. The project also supports SMEs to adopt more equality-based values, processes, systems and structures that help them to attract and retain women into their workforce.

A2L is offering the following interventions to women in employment/self-employment; Women Leadership Training, Women Returner Support, Women Support Networks, Women Ambassadors, Aspiring Young Women (ages 19-30), Influencer training (in schools, colleges and universities) and Women Entrepreneurs (ages 50+).

For SMEs we can offer support to establish/implement; Women ‘Returnships’, Gender pay gap analysis and Action Plans, Organisational Transformation, Sponsorship programmes and Tackling Gender Stereotypes support.

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. SMEs must be able to prove that they have fewer than 250 employees to receive support.

Want to know more?
Read more about each of the 12 strands of aspire2lead

Strand 1 – Women Leadership Training

The Women Leadership Training strand is delivered by Beyond 2030 and engages women at all different levels within organisations.  The programme includes workshops, group training, peer coaching, 1on1 mentoring and webinars. Each programme is tailored to support the women that are supported by combining workshops and coaching, and enhancing apprenticeships, where relevant to the female participant. Topics available to help women to gain the tools and confidence to progress into senior positions in work include:

  • Identifying barriers to progression
  • Navigating office politics
  • Strategies for influence and impact
  • Speaking tools and techniques
  • People management
  • Effective networking
  • Confidence Building
  • Building brands in a digital world
  • Talent attraction
  • Development and retention
  • Marketing
  • Self-mastery with emotional correctness
  • Handling challenge and change
  • Identifying clients and new markets
  • Fearless finance
  • Employment Law

Strand 2 & 3 – Women Returner Support and Women Returner ‘Returnships’

These two strands work together and take a two-pronged approach targeting women returners directly and targeting employers to support women returners through structured Returnships.

Women Returner Support

Women Returner Support 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.

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 practise will then be identified that is appropriate for the business and a development of a Returnship programme will commence. The Returnship strand will then work by putting into place a programme to help returners to transition back into work, working to restructure job roles and provide more flexibility or part-time roles for staff returning after a career break. We will then work with the company to embed the support provision and help put into place mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of the Returnship with the companies and the individuals who access it.

Strand 4 & 5 – Women Support Networks and Women Ambassadors

Through our extensive networks, with support from YNY LEP and the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, we are looking to identify senior women to act as Ambassadors in York and North Yorkshire.  The Women’s Ambassador strand will champion and encourage women on to Boards, Governing Bodies and into Leadership positions. The Women Support Networks work with the Women Ambassadors and us at aspire2lead to promote the benefit of promoting women into senior positions, particularly to those SMEs where women are under-represented in senior positions.

With these two strands we are developing a common purpose charter, delivering a training programme of seminars, workshops, publishing material setting out real world statistics and benefits that encourage organisations to appoint more female members to positions of influence, facilitating discussions about the concept of unconscious bias and how this can be addressed, via speakers and industry leaders we share their viewpoints and personal experiences in corporate governance. Lastly, we are supporting companies to address unconscious bias through practical HR tips and talent management.

Strand 6 – 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 intervention is packaged according to the specific needs of the individual. The objective is to support women in all levels of employment, we help to raise 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.

Strand 7 – Influencer training

The Influencer Training in schools, colleges and universities aims to interrupt and tackle unconscious bias and encourage young women and girls to be ambitious and aim for senior leadership positions.  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.

Strand 8 – Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Run by Yorkshire in Business, the Women Entrepreneur strand consists of one to one meetings, group sessions of learning workshops and coaching, to inspire the creation of new enterprises and to support the sustainment of existing enterprises. They are supporting women in business (or in senior management positions looking to start, develop and growth their own business) for approximately  3 months to progress their ideas. They are running a large-scale communications campaign aimed at engaging with women owners and women in senior management positions, promoting the value of skills and the opportunities associated with growth in the business environment. Participants then work with the clients to identify the challenges which are holding back their development, work with them to develop bespoke solutions and identify innovative delivery methods.

In particular they look to develop female business owners and senior women who want to develop their careers in micro/SMEs around leadership and management focussing on strategy, growth and business scale up.  Yorkshire in Business aim to enhance personal development skills (confidence, self-esteem etc) alongside those that are needed to successfully run businesses i.e. financial planning, marketing, project management, HR.  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, 4 face to face workshops, 6 x 1-2-1 acceleration coaching sessions, monthly webinars and access to online content.

Strand 9 – Gender Pay Gap Analysis

Delivered by Beyond 2030 this strand utilises their extensive research experience and builds on current gender pay gap analysis activities with larger organisations, to support SMEs in YNY in addressing their own gender pay gaps. SMEs undertake consultation (and data collection from staff responsible for HR and strategy within the business (i.e. owner/HR lead, senior manager), once engaged.  This identifies how the business deals with recruitment, promotion and staff development, baselines for improvements and monitoring, job roles and pay-scales comparisons for men and women in the business 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. This information then forms a joint action planning approach with the SME (owner/HR lead, senior manager), 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.

Strand 10 – Organisational Transformation

The Organisational Transformation strand supports SMEs to understand how their current practices prevent women progressing in the workforce and how a change in practice will provide benefits to their organisation. The self-assessment process encourages organisations to critique their business as usual, challenging them to ask why they operate in a particular way and then understand the impact of this on how women enter, sustain and progress in employment with them. The self-assessment enables businesses to look at a wide variety of factors which affects female retention and progression including:

  • Recruitment practices
  • Impact of unconscious bias
  • Availability of and attitudes towards flexible and part time work
  • Values and culture that do not support female employees at all stages of their working lives
  • Availability of training packages that address issues

Following the outcomes of assessment, a tailored approach is taken, working closely with the HR department to prioritise areas of work for improvement and an action plan created.

Strand 11 – Sponsorship Programme

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 in the business. We encourage SMEs to link with other businesses to share best practice and provide peer support for sponsorship. We have researched and developed good practice for sponsorship programmes and hope to identify businesses interested in undertaking sponsorships. We will work with businesses using the research undertaken and adapt the programme to suit them as appropriate. We will:

  • Identify where there could be peer sponsorship by linking businesses together
  • How this will be embedded in to the company’s offer for to their employees.
  • Return to evaluate how effective the ‘sponsorship’ is going and evaluate at the end.
  • Share good practice of sponsorships with other SMEs

Strand 12 – Tackling Gender Stereotypes

Run 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 YNYER LEP growth areas which could be seen as male dominated i.e. bio renewables, agri-tech, manufacturing and engineering, and may have a concentration of women at lower pay grades but senior positions are skewed towards men. In this strand they undertake consultations and data collection from staff responsible for HR and strategy within businesses and groups of businesses.

This research enables their analysis and identification of any issues/barriers or opportunities around Gender Stereotyping in the regions SMEs. This information forms a joint action planning approach with the SME (owner/HR lead, senior management or senior women directly), which incorporates sharing of 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.

Meet the Team


Hi, my name is Lorna Watson and I am the Project Manager for aspire2lead. I will be ensuring the project is running smoothly over the next few years, working closely with the team here at aspire-igen but also with our two other delivery partners, Beyond 2030 and Yorkshire In Business. I have previously worked on the Action Towards Inclusion project which is where my ESF project experience comes from. My biggest motivator in work is being part of something much bigger – I love to know that the work I do is supporting others in a genuinely positive and often life-changing way. I am really interested in music and photography and set up a small side business for photography during lockdown (something which may come in useful for capturing some of our case studies!).


Hi, my name is Ellie Brown and I am the Women’s Ambassadors Facilitator and Training Coordinator (WAFTC is less of a mouthful!). I’m really excited to be a part of the aspire2lead Team. I will be identifying and engaging Senior Women in business and organisations and working with them to create Women’s Support Networks. These networks are for sharing best practice and skill sharing for employed and self-employed women – both strands which seek to reduce the inequality women face in the workforce. My background is varied but the most transferrable skills are relating to my work in management in the Healthcare Sector and for a local Domestic Abuse Charity. I’m also soon due to finish my law degree. My past times include trying to sleep in the short space of time my kids stay asleep and eating Jaffa cakes.


Hi, I’m Tally Jones, I am the Project Support Officer for aspire2lead. I am a graduate from the University of York where I finished my Masters in International Relations this year; my research was focused on the unintended consequences of aid in post conflict situations. I’ve worked with different non-profits for social mobility with refugee families and rough sleepers both in York and Leeds. In my spare time I am a reservist for the British Army where I’ve built skills and experience in challenging mental and physical situations. In the aspire2lead team I support the Project Manager, oversee compliance and coordinate the teams marketing. When not working on the project you will usually find me rowing, climbing, cycling or playing Scrabble.


Hi, I’m Bernie Cullen; I am working as the Employer Engagement Officer on the aspire2lead project. I’ve been a business entrepreneur for most of my life, I was the founder and CEO of The Bike Rescue Project in York from 2006-2016. Recently, I’ve been studying for an MA in Creative Writing (poetry) and working as a University administrator. I’m very excited to be part of this project and looking forward to making connections within the business community of York and North Yorkshire. My hobbies include knitting, gardening and poetry. I also have an allotment for peace, quiet and good veg!


Hi, my name is Gabby Skeldon and I’m the Training Coordinator on the aspire2Lead project. I studied Sport and Community Development at Sheffield Hallam, completed an MA in Sport and Leisure, and after becoming obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race, began a PhD in the study of drag, gender and sexuality (which I hope to complete in the New Year!). For the last twelve months, I worked as part of Barnardo’s Anti-HBT project, delivering LGBTQ awareness training to primary and secondary schools in Yorkshire and the Humber. In my free time, I read and write a lot, and love to spend time with my mum’s new puppy, Annie!


Hi, I’m Anj Handa, Trainer for the Aspiring Young Women and Women Returners strands of the aspire2lead programme. I’ve been a trainer for almost 20 years and have specialised in working with women in leadership for the last decade.
As the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers, a charity Chair, and a university Governor, I am dedicated to supporting women at all levels of their careers. I’m so excited to bring the blend of tools, techniques and strategies that have helped me and many others that I’ve worked with over the years. Born and raised in Leeds, I’ve lived and worked abroad but returned to Yorkshire in 2003 where I love nothing better than hiking in our beautiful Dales. I’m a creative cook, plant mum and have an affinity with wild birds. Nature is definitely my go-to place.


Hello, my name is Ros Doyle and I’m the Key Worker for Aspire2Lead.  My role is to act as the first point of contact for anyone interested in hearing more about our project and the ways in which we are challenging inequalities in the workplace.  My background is in careers guidance and I have worked in a wide range of settings, most recently with the National Careers Service.  I love talking with people about their plans and ambitions and feel privileged to be a part of such an exciting project enabling women to achieve their true potential.  Outside of work, what makes me very happy is sharing a big table of food with my family and friends.

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