Helen Tubb has long worked at a strategic level in public policy consulting, advising the European Commission across a slew of critical areas, from employment to social inclusion to climate action. Hers is a highly accomplished career that has played out at the heart of European affairs, managing great complexity and bringing together diverse and disparate stakeholders to accelerate learning and collaborative problem-solving.

Most recently, coming through the longtail of the Covid pandemic, Helen decided it was time for a change of direction. Despite the enormous satisfaction consulting had brought, she was ready for a new opportunity to learn and grow. 

Helen Tubb portrait

Helen Tubb
Leadership & Gender Dynamics Advisor


“I was looking at the next phase in my life and I’d come to the conclusion that, although my role gave me huge variety and exposure to all kinds of leadership, it was really time for me to do something different,” she says. “But I wasn’t entirely sure what something different meant or would look like for me.”

The impetus to change coupled with uncertainty around how that change should manifest led Helen “back to school,” she laughs. Specifically, it led her to the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC). This was a programme that not only offered her a chance to learn but aligned with an emerging passion for psychology and the “way that people tick.”

“Understanding people and making sense of their choices and behaviours has always been a golden thread through my European work, with so many cultures and nationalities. And here was a programme with the academic rigour both to harness and leverage this experience, and really inform my thinking about what my next steps should be.”

Going into the programme, Helen was prepared to be challenged intellectually. What she was not expecting was the transformational power of the learning experience; one that she describes as “life-changing.” For a start, there was her understanding of change itself. The programme, she says, challenged her long understanding of change processes as linear and logical with clear outcomes. Instead, and from the get-go, she began to see change as something more inherently complex and “limitless.”

"One of the first breakthroughs of the programme was this invitation to lean into the messiness and ambiguity of change, and to work with and not against the contradictions and complexity that surround adapting to change within people and organisations. There is no start and finish line."

Embracing the psychology of change, the way that the change experience manifests differently in individuals—and ties so deeply to their personal experience, childhood and psychological makeup—was another breakthrough in her thinking; and one that Helen was able to channel immediately into leading a new strategic initiative as a “change broker”, working with a very large and diverse group of international stakeholders within her organisation. 

Helen Tubb class picture
Helen and her EMC class

The programme helped her take a different approach to this work, she says: less “top-down” and “quick-fire”, and more focused on the work with people in a deeper, emotional way and being attentive to what evolves from the interaction. Seeing entirely new levels of collaboration and connection emerge between these colleagues was enormously affirmative and rewarding.

“Without the programme, I think my approach would have been more superficial. We wouldn’t have seen the same depth and longevity of traction.”

Helen was also able to channel new concepts and frameworks from the programme into another challenging project – her EMC research dissertation. Here, she wanted to look at how sponsoring diverse, talented women in the workplace can help address today’s attrition and exodus of women, particularly as they reach or navigate within senior ranks of an organisation. 

Key studies reveal that women are typically under-sponsored compared to their men counterparts, but there is very little research on the sponsorship phenomenon itself – what are the inter and intrapersonal dynamics and most importantly, what can be done to make it a more everyday occurrence? Among the new lenses offered by the programme was the relationship between leadership, identity and gender.

"It's a tricky path for women to navigate", says Helen. "The programme shone a lot of light on the role of identity in leadership, both as women and as leaders of groups - how to maintain your sense of personal and professional identity, and your self-worth while fitting into the group; how to manage your emotional responses to complex psychological and interpersonal dynamics."

The programme’s focus on identity helped unearth new understanding around the complexities of sponsorship - not only in the relationship between sponsored women and those who sponsor them, but also between sponsors and the senior leaders they seek to influence through their advocacy and opportunity creation. Best practice cases emerging from her research reveal that sponsorship works best when sponsors are sensitive to the nature of the “power” they have vis-à-vis the women they are supporting. 

Sponsorship is also far more effective when it is understood and instituted at the macro-organisational level, taking account of the wider culture and leadership norms the organisation implicitly values. A starting point for this is engaging a wider cadre of leaders to develop sponsorship strategies and programmes as an integral part of leadership development, talent management and DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging).

Helen Tubb Conference
Helen presenting "Powering up sponsorship for better business" in a conference

The fruit of this research, building on her EMC experience, has been the development of a unique, system-wide model for understanding and shaping sponsorship approaches to elevate diverse talent to senior leadership levels; one that Helen is beginning to bring to different organisations, networks and associations as she has now set up her independent consulting practice.

“I’m starting to work with businesses that have realised sponsorship is such a critical, yet untapped lever. I’m helping them design frameworks, models and programmes that enable leaders to become more active sponsors and champion aspiring women in their leadership.”

From starting her first module of the EMC programme to the completion of her research project and ultimately graduating, the learning experience has been more transformational than she could have imagined, she says.

“Without the EMC I would never have had the knowledge of myself, let alone the academic insights; nor would I have had the courage to start a completely new chapter in my life. I don’t think I would have had the confidence, the support or the boost to think that this part of me is even possible. It’s been game-changing for me as a professional and as a person.”

Helen Tubb attended the Fontainebleau section of the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC), an 18-month part-time programme for senior executives. 

By integrating business education with a range of psychological disciplines, the EMC prepares participants to assume roles in leading organisations, drive individual and organisational development, and successfully execute change management. Download the programme brochure to find out more. 

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