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Northern Ireland’s emerging leaders in Ulster University’s 25@25 Leadership Programme today (Friday 23 February) received a masterclass focused on ‘Becoming an Inclusive Leader’ in the latest session hosted at the Ulster University Coleraine campus.

A range of inspirational speakers and thought leaders on inclusion addressed the 25 cohort during the session. Among those were Geraldine McGahey OBE, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission; Don Leeson, Chief Executive Officer of NI Labour Relations and Deepa Mann-Kler, TEDx speaker, author, and Chief Executive of Neon who shared experiences on how to promote diverse thinking as a leader to empower colleagues and enhance performance by making individuals feel respected and heard.

“Today we have brought together a diverse range of speakers whose combined life and work experience will greatly benefit our group of 25 alumni,” said Ulster University’s Professor Declan McKenna introducing the masterclass. “Among those the group hear from our own visiting Professor Deepa Mann-Kler leading a session on harnessing inclusivity as a superpower, on how to make everyone feel, welcome, valued, and respected no matter where they are from. Including Professor Mary Hannon-Fletcher, Ulster University Dean of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) who shared her personal journey and explored what it means to become an inclusive leader, while our keynote speaker, Geraldine McGahey OBE, challenged the group to consider their role in society.”

During the course of the day, the cohort heard from panellists Cllr Lilian Seenoi-Barr, Founder and Director of the North-West Migrants Forum; Dr James Uhomoibhi, UU’s BAME Network; Christine O’Kane, u3a; Gemma Kelly, Cara Friend.

The panel engaged in an in-depth and fascinating discussion on diverse society, highlighting key insights and challenges within Northern Ireland. The panellists shared their personal experiences and interests that led them to their current roles in their respective organisations and gave examples of how their organisations have led in affecting change for the future.

Originally from Kenya, Cllr Seenoi-Barr is the first black politician ever to be elected to any public office in Northern Ireland. She has been a strong voice for migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees who have chosen to make a life for themselves and their families in Derry~Londonderry. Speaking to the cohort she said:

“I came to Northern Ireland in 2010 seeking asylum from Kenya as my family was targeted due to the fact that my son has autism and, in my culture, it is not understood. When I first arrived it was a charity in Derry that helped me. I eventually founded the North-West Migrants Forum as my aim is to create a new and inclusive society in Northern Ireland, giving equal access to all, for opportunities and shared services. At every opportunity, I try to speak about ethnic minority communities as I am sometimes the only voice they have. I centre my experience to that of others, I focus on inclusivity and feel we all should speak about every issue. I should not be the only person speaking about the Black Lives Matter campaign and the only one leading the cause, everyone should be as, there is power in working together.”

Gemma Kelly from Cara Friend a charity focused on supporting and empowering the LGBTQI+ community in Northern Ireland and Ulster University alumna said:

“I always felt some level of exclusion when I was at school, but I never felt excluded studying at Ulster University. Coming to Ulster University really enhanced my confidence and enabled me to be me. I felt so supported and everything we did was so inclusive giving me a whole new perspective. The main thing I took away from Ulster University was that it helped me to reflect on myself, my journey and taught me how to put my views across but also how to respect everyone else’s too. It enhanced my passion for education and LGBTQ+ rights and I now aim to help other students feel supported through my role at Cara Friend.”

The event wrapped up with a talk from Don Leeson, Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Agency, sharing his own experiences on how he embeds inclusivity into his organisation and what led to him winning his recent accolade.

During the past six months the 25@25 leaders and Ulster University alumni who are recognised as rising to the tops of their respective fields from fashion and consultancy, to law and public sector organisations, have gained valuable lessons in leadership in the context of innovation, creativity and sustainability with insights from some of Northern Ireland’s leading figures including Head of the Civil Service Jayne Brady, former Irish rugby player turned Ireland AM presenter Dr Tommy Bowe and Derry Girls Creator and screen writer, Dr Lisa McGee.