Women are not exactly known for taking risks. Especially in the wake of the economic recession, women’s supposed restraint has even been lauded as studies ask whether or not the financial crisis would have occurred had more women been in positions of power in the financial world.
But the idea that women are biologically risk-averse is a myth. In fact, women’s tendency to take fewer risks than men is much less rooted in nature than it is in the way we’re nurtured. But no matter why women avoid taking risks, doing so may be hurting us in the long run. And many wildly successful women have spoken out about why women need to face their fears and take more chances.
Here are seven reasons why risk-taking is essential to women’s success, according to the very women who have benefited from putting it all on the line.
1. Great, otherwise unforeseen opportunities often come from risk-taking.
We tend to view risk-taking negatively, often regarding it as dangerous and even unwise. But while some risks certainly don’t pay off, it’s important to remember that some do. Reframing risk as an opportunity to succeed rather than a path to failure is something Sandra Peterson, CEO of the $10 billion business Bayer CropScience, knows well. She told Forbes in 2011:
Most women I know who have been successful in business, it’s because they’ve been willing to take on the risky challenge that other people would say, “Oh, I’m not sure I want to do that.” If you look at my career, I’ve taken on a lot of risky roles. They were risky to some people but to me it was, “Wow, this is this great opportunity and it’s allowing me to learn new things and take on a bigger role and a bigger organization.” But some people would view that as, “Are you crazy? What do you know about diabetes, or what do you know about washing machines or the food industry or automobiles or the agricultural industry?”
2. Taking risks shows confidence and helps you stand out.
Taking a risk is also a great opportunity to stand out and to present yourself as a leader, not a follower satisfied with the status quo. Tamara Abdel-Jaber, who is the CEO of the tech company Palma and was named one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in Arabian Business Magazine in 2011, told Women 2.0:
The way I see it, many people in ... [the Middle East] don’t have many resources and knowledge. In order to stand out, expend a little extra effort ... I am passionate about knowledge and pursued that from an early age by working hard in school and have continued to do so throughout my life. My knowledge helps me to be confident, and I like taking risks.
3. We learn from risks — and those lessons may lead us on an important, new path.
But beyond the external opportunities and recognition risk-taking can bring, it also provides an opportunity for internal growth. Heather Rabbatts, the first female non-executive director of The Football Association, told the BBC in an interview for the Woman’s Hour Power List:
I think I’ve always felt that there was something quite exciting about taking risks. And there’s a great saying, actually, that you only learn when you are at risk and I’m fascinated by both risk and learning, so that has led me to take jobs that people would think “you can’t do that, that’s just impossible.” No it won’t be.
4. Success won’t fall in your lap — you have to pursue it.
But beyond being personally or professionally beneficial, taking risks may be a necessary step in actively pursuing success. When asked how she became the first female CEO of a television network in a Huffington Post interview, Kay Koplovitz responded:
You really have to put one foot in front of the other and start on your journey. You have to be comfortable that you don’t know exactly how you are going to get to the results that you want to see. There is going to be experimentation along the way. And you have to be comfortable that you can think your way through and actually execute your way through to the desired outcome. I expected to be successful. I wanted to be successful.
5. You don’t achieve your dreams by playing it safe.
Risk-taking won’t only potentially benefit the career-path you’re already on — it may actually open you up to a world of possibilities you have yet to consider. President and CEO of EngenderHealth Pamela Barnes urged female professionals to leave their comfort zone in order to achieve their potential in an interview with The Grindstone:
For all professionals, and especially young women, the world outside our comfort zone can be huge and scary. Until we are willing to put ourselves out there and take a risk, we will never be able to achieve professional success and realize our potential. It’s time to leave our comfort zone; time to go after what we’re passionate about; and time to achieve our dreams.
6. Embracing risk-taking helps you overcome a fear of failure.
Arianna Huffington has long identified the fear of failure as a major roadblock to success. She told Business Insider last year:
We women are a little more risk-averse because whenever you launch something there’s a big chance it’s not going to work. And we have a bigger problem with failure ... [Women deal with] what I call the obnoxious roommate living in our head that constantly puts us down, doesn’t want us to fail because we become identified with our successes and failures.
But failure, Huffington insists, isn’t the end of one’s journey to success, but usually the beginning. She told The Guardian earlier this month that her mother always taught her that, “Failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success. “
7. Taking a risk doesn’t mean doing so haphazardly.
While risk taking can clearly be personally and professionally beneficial, it doesn’t occur in a vacuum, either. People don’t benefit from risks without preparing to take them and educating themselves on the possible fall-out. JetStream Federal Credit Union CEO Jeanne Kucey is well-aware of this fact.
“While I’m definitely a risk taker, at the same time, I do my homework and understand the importance of implementation and follow through,” she told the Credit Union Times in 2012. “You can’t just throw a bunch of ideas without seeing the whole process of a project and what the end should be or look like.”