How Women Rise: Nurturing Career Building Alliances

By Cerrina Jensen with Amy Evans, Lisa Hutcherson and Emma Fox

This is the third installment of a multi-part series which features a question based on the book “How Women Rise,” by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen, and responses from some of the speakers slated to present at the 2nd CAHU Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS). WLS is now rescheduled for next spring due to global disruptions caused by COVID-19.

To recap what we shared in our previous installments, while this series focuses on female leadership and the 12 habits covered in the book that can hamper success, it’s meant to shed light on these issues for not just women but the men we work, live and play alongside.

This month’s question drew answers from Lisa Hutcherson, Emma Fox, and Amy Evans (who also penned the question itself): “Women are excellent at building relationships, but they usually aren’t as skilled as men at leveraging those relationships and building alliances that will move them forward in their careers. Are you comfortable intentionally engaging others to help you achieve your career goals? If not, what’s been your resistance?


“It took me a long time to realize that building relationships wasn’t enough to move my career forward. Like many women, I learned to build relationships based on their intrinsic value—how they make me feel, how much we understand and support each other. It has taken me longer to learn to build relationships that are based on their extrinsic value—what we can actually do for each other. Part of that requires me embracing the idea that I have something valuable to bring to the relationship—sometimes immediately, sometimes in the future. When I learned to embrace that, I felt more confident forming mutually beneficial alliances that could help me move my career forward.”


“Only recently, and only because I’ve realized I can work smarter; not harder. Women have a foundationally false programming that has long told them that they need to work a lot harder in order to compete with men in their field because the truth is that men do leverage personal relationships within business settings more than women do. Perhaps it’s that we have been more cognizant of appearing absolutely professional in all scenarios because we fear not being taken seriously against our male counterparts, or worse, an ask for a referral may be taken as innuendo… but we can drop this façade now. Some of the brightest and most influential leaders in our space are women who have been championed by their peers. I’d be willing to bet those most successful stopped worrying about presenting a false perception and instead embraced presenting themselves (and their talents) authentically. I have learned that I can get a lot farther when I offer an exchange of value with someone who can contribute to my path, and so can they.”


“For many years I tried to find a way to intentionally engage others. I wanted them to assist me in moving forward in the industry or company. One day it finally happened! And it was through an unexpected encounter with one of my male colleagues. Though we came from very different cultural and career experiences, he taught me something that has forever changed the way I build relationships.

Lesson: Find something that interests you and the people you are wanting to engage with that exists outside of the office.

Organic connections can happen in business away from the workplace. They happened when I engaged at a personal level that also allowed me to showcase my business acumen. I did so with intentionality and an authentic touch, and that helped me write my name all over it. These conversations presented themselves in a variety of ways:

  • During business conferences I was able to speak as an industry expert.
  • Health underwriting functions where connections could happen inside and outside of my organization.
  • VIP wine tasting events that I hosted with key business partners. Engagement was more leisurely or casual but key to business relations and personal bridge building.

Simply put, I found my own unique language and way of connecting with others. As a result, many of my career goals have been achieved. More importantly the long term and lasting relationships continue paving a road of connections that’s no longer straight, but has many different paths that venture out into a multitude of opportunities.”

I couldn’t agree more with these women, and appreciate and applaud their candid and transparent insights. My resistance to leveraging relationships and building alliances has been somewhat textbook, in that I never wanted to come off as opportunistic or intrusive by taking advantage of a relationship. But when I was taught years ago that our business is driven by a moral obligation to educate and equip our current and potential clients, that helped empower me with a different perspective. When your foundational premise is to genuinely help those you serve, suddenly it’s not so self-serving to utilize any leverage available, including a connection that may be of use in those pursuits.

Stay tuned next month, when we’ll tackle another question!

Cerrina Jensen is an AVP in the Benefits Division of CoreMark Insurance, and the founder of Stellar Stories, a startup communications and leadership development firm.


Amy Evans
is the president of Colibri Insurance Services, a boutique insurance agency that simplifies employee benefits for employers in Southern California. She’s also the founder of AlignWomen, a leadership and networking organization for professional women.



Lisa Hutcherson
is the West Territory Enrollment manager for Aflac and the founder of Darlis LLC, a company specializing in training leaders in both business and ministry. She is also a certified John Maxwell trainer, business coach, public speaker, poet and author.



Emma Fox is the chief operating officer at E Powered Benefits and CEO of sister firm, Signal Health Consulting. In 2018 Emma founded the Empowered Leadership Community for rising leaders in our industry.