By Cerrina Jensen with Amy Evans
This is the first of a multi-part series which will feature a question based on the book, “How Women Rise,” by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen. Responses featured come from several of the speakers slated to present at the 2nd CAHU Women’s Leadership Summit, now rescheduled for March 2021 due to global disruptions caused by “The ‘Rona.”
While the series focuses on female leadership and the 12 habits covered in the book that can hamper our success, it’s meant to shed light on these issues—for not just women—but also for the men we work, live and play alongside.
This month, the question posed to these female leaders in our industry was, “Women can be reluctant to bring attention and visibility to their successes. Have you struggled with this while moving forward in your career or building your business? Do you think it has done you a disservice? Is this something you have been able to overcome? If so, how?”
This month’s contributors include Amy Evans (who penned the question), along with Stephanie Berger, Emma Fox, Lisa Hutcherson and Amira Alvarez. All these women had quite a bit to say on this subject and you may well see their full responses in subsequent breakout pieces, because they are gold. Meanwhile, this first month is a compilation of our respective responses, which demonstrated common themes, mixed in with our uniquely personal experiences.
To summarize, each of our contributors this month has struggled with the habit of suppressing our respective achievements for a variety of reasons. These include what we call self-imposed barriers, along with societal boundaries, an internal dialogue of negativity, and plain old fear. As Emma put it, “…We’re already starting from a place of fear: fear of failure, of not getting the sale, or not being heard. So often we just don’t ‘go for it’ at all. I think the biggest mental challenge for a woman in business is that we’ve convinced ourselves that we must be aggressive to compete with some of the older and louder incumbent male voices, but we really don’t. We need to establish trust in ourselves to disassemble the fear of not being good enough.”
Amy points out that “women are socialized in ways that discourage the kind of self-promotion and aggressive skills that often lead to success in the business world.”
Amira had a similar observation, sharing that her “fear of rejection, getting ousted from the tribe, being abandoned and alone… all of it comes up.” She “had to move through all the internal dialogue about ‘who do you think you are?’”
In Lisa’s case, her struggle has been amplified by racial bias that has been an undeniable reality in her walk toward the success she enjoys today. She shared that she “adopted the notion of flying below the radar, yet still achieving every goal I set out to accomplish…I would often say to myself, ‘This is as good as it’s going to get’ and ‘I should be happy with my achievements.’ Inside, however, I was screaming because I continued to quietly water down all my hard work and talents.”
Stephanie “has always had an easier time boasting about accomplishments or successes when it comes to a team setting.” With respect to her early career, she attributes this, “to the fact that I was young and a female in what I viewed as a man’s world.” Emma added that she “used to think it was related to humility—those that do great work don’t need to brag about it. But we SHOULD be speaking about our strengths and where our value lies as women and professionals.”
I can certainly relate to so much of what these female leaders shared about their struggles, and the ensuing battle to conquer them. I too have put up self-imposed barriers based on the notion Amira pointed out, and the persistent inner voice warning that any minute, everyone was going to discover that I was a fraud. I know so many of you know exactly what I’m talking about, based on all the conversations I’ve personally had about that.
One common and refreshing theme I also noticed in the responses from each of these powerhouses, was a hard-earned tenacity and determination to “smash through” the glass ceiling, as Lisa put it. She went on to declare, “I choose to never again live in the shadow of anyone’s stereotype or untruth of who I am.” Amira pointed out that the struggles have absolutely “been worth it, and that persistence is vital, as well as identifying and addressing the blocks, double-binds, and subconscious programming that causes us to self-sabotage and stop ourselves from moving forward.”
Stephanie added, “I think that as with any challenge, age and more self-confidence has helped me to overcome these struggles. I am now more willing to own my accomplishments with both pride and humility.” And Emma put the cherry on the top with the statement, “as soon as we realize that failure is a requirement to lay a path to success, we’ll take a lot more shots at the goal.” And that, my friends, applies to ALL leaders, no matter their gender or industry, no matter where they are in their career, and no matter what they want to accomplish. It reminds me of a bumper sticker affixed to my folio, under the paper pad that reads: “Do sh*t that scares you.” That’s the only way to learn who you truly are—a fierce warrior destined for greatness of your own design.
Contributors this month include:
Cerrina Jensen is an associate VP 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.
Stephanie Berger is a principal at Collaborative Insurance Solutions and Past President of CAHU. She works as a benefits consultant for small and midsize employers.
Emma Fox is the COO 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.
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.
Amira Alvarez is the founder and CEO of The Unstoppable Woman, a global coaching company helping rising stars in all fields achieve their dreams and goals in record time, and host of the 5-star podcast at https://theunstoppablewoman.com/listen/