A light has gone out in the north east region. Professor Jane Turner’s premature death should focus us all on the importance of doing what we can, when we can and to the best of our abilities. That’s what she did. Doing our best is a social responsibility, but it is also a business responsibility. As a business owner I feel that i have as much a responsibility as a ‘worth-creator’ as a wealth-creator.

Jane was Teesside University’s inspirational Pro-Vice Chancellor with responsibility for business engagement. She was also the university’s gender champion and did an enormous amount to redress inequality, particularly for girls and young women.

Labour market statistics are up, not just nationally but here in the North-East. Yet, in a report by Deloitte, 70% of the women polled reported that they feared covid would negatively impact their career growth. Is there an imbalance here? Why? How can it be rectified? Deloitte’s report adds fuel to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Report that the UK was going backwards in gender equality across politics, health and survival, educational attainment and – the connection to the labour market statistics – economic participation and opportunity.

These reports, both drawn from wide survey groups, are international, but come down the funnel to our region where the statistics are just as bleak. I’ll focus on Jane Turner’s patch – the Tees Valley – because something is being done here to redress the balance and potentiallly play an active part in the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ plans.

That ‘levelling up’ phrase refers in its simplest form to improving the economic prosperity of regions. In the Tees Valley economic prosperity is 75% of the UK average. The region has a relatively low concentration of people in higher-skilled and higher paid jobs. But true ‘levelling up’ is about more than this. It’s about social prosperity ; it’s about health and wellbeing ; and its about raising aspirations and harnessing the potential of individuals. In Teesside there are high levels of long-term sickness, places where there are low levels of participation and low aspirations. All of these: high sickness levels, low levels of participation and aspiration have been exacerbated by the pandemic and need urgently to be addressed.

Gender equality is a fundamental aspect of these ‘levelling up’ conversations, and a key component in the pursuit of an ethical business culture. As businesses we have an economic as well as a moral imperative to ensure that 50% of the working population have equal access to opportunity.

Professor Turner has addressed this imperative head-on by founding the Power of Women Campaign (POW for short) to shift and lift the aspirations of girls and young women in the Tees Valley. She was committed to our young people in the certain knowledge that our young people are our future.

To get involved in The POW Campaign you can follow it on twitter, linked in, instagram or facebook. The website will be launched on 5th September.

Caroline Theobald – Chair and Co-Founder FIRST and Programme Director at Startup, director NIBE