Women do take risks. They judge them differently. They’re also judged differently than men. The scoop on women and risk-taking.
Are Women Really Risk Averse?
Well, that depends.
Are you tall?
According to research from Mendeley, stronger, taller and attractive people are perceived as being risk tolerant. Women tend to be shorter, thus mitigating their perception advantage.
But there are many studies showing that women are more risk averse than men. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, the authors note that male risk-taking increases under stress while female risk-taking decreases under stress. This makes perfect sense given our biological heredity; women as caregivers of children take fewer risks to protect their young.
Okay, but how does that work in today’s office environment? The issue isn’t whether men or women take risks but that they differ in how they evaluate risks and which risks they take.
When leaders evaluate risks, they weigh the risk versus the objective and the risk versus the impact on the teams of people working on it. In other words, they weigh the goal against the human factor and vice versa.
Time and time again, women tend to count people more heavily than the objective, while men weigh risk versus objective more highly. So women go for the risk when the risk to their teams are minimal and men go for the risk when they think they have a better chance of achieving their goal regardless of the impact on the team.
The problem isn’t that women aren’t risk-takers. It’s that women tend to weigh risks differently than the current standard definition of risk-taking allows. If we avoid perception bias and if we understand how men and women differ in their risk-taking strategies, we can clearly see that both male and female leaders are risk-takers. Together, they may actually create a healthier work environment than a male or female-dominated space.