Balance in Business: Who leads? Who (still) cares? The Board Perspective

The second of a three-part event series of the INSEAD Alumni UK ‘Balance in Business Initiative’ took place on 11 March 2021. The digital event brought together board experts from varied backgrounds to discuss why ‘Balance in Business’ matters, how to implement it and to recognise the value it can create.

Florence Hamilton, founder of the ‘Balance in Business Initiative’ which aims to engage and inspire current and future leaders, explained that the Initiative is built on three pillars: the Impact Mentoring Programme, Partnering with Organisations, and the Outreach Programme. This series being a part of it.

Experienced chairman, coach, board member and facilitator, Helen Pitcher OBE, then introduced the three panellists:

Our Panellists

Beatrice Hamza Bassey

Experienced board member; Chair of Union Bank Nigeria; General Counsel and Board Member Atlas Amara

Beatrice Hamza Bassey is General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at Atlas Mara Co-Nvest Limited; she is Chair of the Board of Directors at Union Bank Nigeria, and Chair of Risk and Compliance Committee at African Banking Corporation of Botswana Limited.

In addition, Ms Hamza-Bassey is also a Member, Board of Trustees of Vornado Realty Trust, an Independent Board Member of IGT and a Member of Board Directors of Banque Populaire du Rwanda.

A lawyer of great repute with extensive experience in corporate governance and financial institutions, she is an authority in compliance and represents clients globally in compliance and anti-corruption matters.

She holds an LL.B in Law from University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, a BL in Law from the Nigerian Law School and an LL.M from Harvard Law School. She is a Fellow of the prestigious David Rockefeller Fellows Program of the Partnership for the City of New York.

Byron Loflin

Global Head of Board Engagement, Nasdaq Governance Solutions & Nasdaq Center for Board Excellence

Byron E. Loflin is Global Head of Board Engagement at Nasdaq where he leads the governance advisory team in providing a strategic, collaborative, and technology-based approach strengthening corporate governance effectiveness. The Nasdaq portfolio of governance solutions and products include board, CEO, and management evaluations, and streamlined Directors’ and Officers’ Questionnaire/pre-proxy disclosure processes and the award-winning Nasdaq Boardvantage portal.

Byron is the founder and former CEO of the Center for Board Excellence (CBE), now the Nasdaq Center for Board Excellence, after being acquired by Nasdaq in 2019. His experience and expertise are in best practices for boards of directors, specifically in the design and administration of board performance evaluations and governance strategy.

Helen Pitcher OBE

Experienced Chairman, Board member, Board facilitator and Coach


Helen Pitcher OBE (IDP-C 13Sep) is an experienced Chairman, Board member, Board facilitator and Coach. Working across the range of FTSE, Professional Service, Private Equity and Family firms, where she has led some of the biggest Board Evaluations. Helen is also a coach to many leading CEOs, Chairman and NED’s. Helen was awarded an OBE for services to Business in 2015.

In addition to her Advanced Boardroom Excellence role Helen holds a number of high-profile Board roles, Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission; Non-Executive Director UB UK, C&C Group Plc, Chairman of their Remuneration Committee, member of the Nomination and ESG Committees. SID OneHealth Group Ltd., Chairman of the Remuneration and Nominations Committees. President of INSEAD Directors Network Board and Chairman of INSEAD Directors Club Limited. President of KidsOut (a National Children’s Charity) and sits on the Advisory Board for Leeds University Law Faculty.

Stanislav Shekshnia

Senior Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, co-director of Leading from the Chair

Dr. Stanislav Shekshnia is a Senior Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, co-director of Leading from the Chair and Scandinavian Executive Institute Executive Board development programmes. His research concentrates on leadership, leadership development and effective corporate governance at emerging markets and organisations. Stanislav is the author, co-author, and editor of 11 books, including Leading a Board (2019), CEO School (2018), Athletic CEOs (2018), and others.

The panellists shared their research and personal experiences on why Balance in Business is important, focusing on the facts that a balanced leadership team tends to deliver better financial outcomes and balance helps attract talent.

But if there is a consensus around the “why” – and some businesses are clearly achieving balance – why can’t we all get it right?

Female board chairs are very underrepresented: Stanislav shared his research showing that there are 1019 male chairs and only 65 female chairs in the EU countries studied (the only exception is in Sweden; where the government is often an important shareholder and explicitly promotes more women on boards). But the key blocking factor in general is CEO experience – female CEOs do not find it more difficult than men to become board chairs, but there are many fewer of them.

Beatrice herself did not take the traditional CEO route to board chair and shared her story as partner of a law firm before becoming general counsel and then a board member. She explained: ‘I joined the board and after winning the confidence of my fellow board members, […] they nominated and elected me as service board chair.’

Helen added that the skills for a Chair are not necessarily the skills of a CEO. Stanislav agreed, noting that: “this is one of the ways forward; we should look at people who have business acumen, which is very important for a board chair. But you don’t necessarily need to be CEO to develop business acumen.”

So, how do we make these changes?

The first event in the series – the CEO Perspective – highlighted the need for visible leadership, more flexible work patterns for women, and a culture shift with systematic adjustments.

At the board level, we need more creativity from nominations committees and head-hunters. Byron believes that gender parity would advance if more women became chairs of the nominating committee, as he has seen this as a direct driver both in the US and globally.

For Beatrice, it is crucial to be deliberate and to specifically ask for and monitor gender balance: “Only what gets measured – gets done!”

Stanislav agreed, adding that people who make nomination decisions should become more familiar with current research about what type of skills make Chairs effective. Women are arguably better than men at some of the soft skills (listening, framing questions, and providing feedback) that are needed to be a Chair.

Quotas are not the answer, boards and CEOs agree. As Ronan Dunne said, “bring in the conditions to allow women to be the success they deserve to be”.

We are heading in the right direction: Byron shared his experiences working with boards and CEOs, seeing a steady evolution of diversity in the boardroom as well as increased activity from investors taking action to require balance not only on boards but at all exco levels.

But there is still a lot of work to be done. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox reminded us that ‘you only get gender by design’, and we will only move beyond the talking when we hit a critical mass. For this we must get non-sympathisers to the table and convince them.

Having more visible role models at the top will bring change!

We are grateful to our invaluable sponsors, Dawn Capital, our Platinum Founding Partner; 20-first, our knowledge partner, Genpact and Chronus.

Leave a Reply