Risk-taking can help women succeed, but many fear not being taken seriously
- KPMG‘s latest Women's Leadership Study found that 69% of women are willing to take small risks to advance their career, but only 43% are willing to take the bigger risks that typically bolster careers. The report also found that the more experienced and self-confident women are, the less willing they are to take risks; 45% of those with less than five years' experience were more open to taking big risks for career advancement, compared to 37% of women with more than 15 years' experience. However, only 8% of respondents said being a risk-taker contributed to their professional success. Also, women of color (57%) were more open to taking big risks than white women (38%).
- In other key findings, 73% of respondents said hard work was the reason for their success; low confidence is the main reason for not assuming bigger risk, driven by a concern for looking like they don't know enough or won't be taken seriously; nearly half of respondents said risk-taking gave them more confidence in their abilities, while only 28% said it allowed them to progress faster; and besides hard work, being detail-oriented, organized and strong-willed were cited as contributing to respondents' success.
- When respondents were asked what encouraged them to take risks, they cited making more money (40%), past success (35%), encouragement from a leader (34%), chance for a promotion (24%) and greater visibility (18%).
In addressing how women advance their careers and what personal skills and perspectives they need to make that happen, employers also must focus on any barriers or restrictions that might be hindering their progress. For example, women in financial services, where confidence and risk-taking are desirable traits, experience harsher barriers than in all other industries, according to a PwC report released in August. A 2017 Harris poll found that more than a third of women in tech jobs leave the industry because of mistreatment, such as being denied assignments and promotions, bullying, sexual harassment and stereotyping. Another study showed that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise, and when they do, they're less likely to receive one. The problem has shown to be even worse for African-American women.
These studies suggest that even when women show confidence and take risks, the payoff for them isn't always as great as for men. Employers must look at their cultures to make sure their work environment doesn't prevent women from fully leveraging their talents, and that includes taking risks. Much of this responsibility hangs on the direct leaders of working women, Michele Meyer-Shipp, KPMG's chief diversity officer, told HR Dive in an interview.
"It's not good enough for a senior person to say it, but a woman's leader on the ground also has to speak and live and role model it," she said of inclusion. That means openly encouraging women to speak up at meetings or otherwise championing their thoughts and ideas.
KPMG suggests that helping women build self-confidence might help reverse the study's less positive findings. Programs for training, mentoring or sponsoring women also might foster confidence among women and help them overcome any resistance to risk-taking.