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How inclusive leadership can help level up our region

15/12/2021 Think Piece
How inclusive leadership can help level up our region

Kiran Trehan from the University of York talks to the Yorkshire Post about how inclusive leadership is important in helping our region level up

Kiran Trehan from the University of York talks about how inclusive leadership is important in helping our region level up


The quality of leadership that exists in our local businesses is what helped our region get through the pandemic. This was one of the resounding messages from the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) ‘Reshaping our Economy’ Annual Conference at the end of November 2021.


As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement at the University of York, I see how leadership has been key in our response to COVID. However, I also see that we now have a moment in time opportunity to turn the lessons of the pandemic into a powerful agent for change: informing and shaping the policies behind the levelling up agenda to ensure that into the future, all people have the same chance to get on in life.  

The levelling up agenda is about building back better to create a fairer, more socially mobile society that is diverse, sustainable, and inclusive. Our region prides itself on being creative and innovative. By harnessing this inventive spirit with regional partners, we can ensure the vitality of the North.  As CBI leader Tony Danker from the CBI highlighted, it’s about drawing on the unique talents and advantages of our region. Levelling up makes good business sense because it supports the creation of new skills, new talent, and inclusive growth.


New forms of leadership are required to address the levelling up agenda. Business leaders must put social mobility at the heart of their purpose and become inclusive leaders. Inclusive leaders inspire a shared vision which engages purposefully with different perspectives and stakeholders from different backgrounds. They ensure their business benefits from diverse, multidisciplinary teams as well as good business practices.


If we are serious about levelling up, then we must work together to provide leadership that opens opportunities for young people and those experiencing disadvantage to build back fairer.  Inclusive leadership drives innovation, empowers future generations and creates sustainable economies.  Inclusive leadership is about good business but most of all, it’s about collaboration and partnerships. 


Already, we have some great examples in Bio Yorkshire, York Central, Good Business City and Higher York of how we are implementing levelling up through key regional partnerships. Our LEP is working with SMEs to provide practical support programmes to enable them to benefit from inclusive leadership. As a university, we are committed to the long-held ambition of overcoming decades of persistent inequality based on educational and socio-economic hardship. For us, this means fostering opportunities through outreach, access, and support not only for young people, but also for mature learners who may have been denied the chance to realise their potential and aspirations. This approach has inspired the creation of a network of targeted social mobility programmes that are reaching out to  left-behind communities.


York has the potential to become the UK’s exemplar ‘learning city’, with inclusivity at the heart of business and skills development including lifelong learning and apprenticeships.  By working together on the levelling up agenda, we can support the growth of spinouts, start- ups and small and medium-sized firms that are the lifeblood of our economy. Our ambition is for this new learning city to become a powerful magnet for inward investors keen to locate to a place where the doors to social mobility and opportunity are open to all.

Also at the end of November, we published a new report in partnership with the Purpose Coalition- a collective of businesses, NHS Trusts, Councils and Universities, formed by the former Government Minister Justine Greening to help address social mobility in the UK. The new ‘Level Best’ impact report identifies English towns and cities which are most at risk of being further left behind as well as highlighting growing regional disparities in the North. 


Early in 2022 as part of the York & North Yorkshire’s ongoing Festival of Engagement, the university plans to host an event to explore what it means to be a successful and inclusive leader in times of rapid political, economic, and social change and will take a look at how business leaders are addressing levelling up in their organisations. Justine Greening will be invited as one of the keynote speakers who will highlight how the Purpose Coalition’s levelling up goals work for businesses like Amazon, Shoosmiths, universities  and NHS trust to name but a few.


Together we can lead our region to become a place where anyone, no matter their background, can access opportunities that allow them to live their best lives and be part of a region that is greener, fairer and stronger for all. We await the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ whitepaper in 2022 with great interest.

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