At the opening of the Women in the World Conference in New York, Hillary Clinton highlighted a great gender difference and an issue that has been one of the greatest barriers to a woman’s career – self-doubt and the fear of taking risks.
She said that young women, when asked to move up, almost always respond with a ““do you think I can?” or “do you think I’m ready?” as opposed to young men, whose first response is, “how high, how fast, when do I start?”
In a world where men are winning because of their ability to take risks, women are trailing behind as they are still unsure of themselves. We have found three main reasons that cause this behaviour.
A Lack of Confidence
A study conducted by the British Psychological Society shows that women, when compared to men, hold back when it comes to taking risks. In the survey that included 2,000 men and women from 20 countries, it was found that “the magnitude of the difference in risk taking between men and women was unexpected. Females were more than twice as likely to be wary and almost twice as likely to be prudent whilst males were more than twice as likely to be adventurous and almost twice as likely to be carefree. From the scale of these findings the researchers conclude that risk taking must be a distinctive feature of gender.”
The study pointed out that these attitudes have evolved from hunter-gatherer era where men took up the role of hunters and gatherers – risk-takers; while women took a more cautious approach that was a necessary skill for the apportioning of food and essentials, and taking care of the household.
It is unfortunate indeed that even though the world has moved on from the days of hunting and gathering, these attitudes are still prevalent and continue to affect women today.
Fear of Failure
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report showed that most women doubt their capabilities when it comes to launching their own businesses, which accounts for the high gender gap in entrepreneurship. The report says that fear of failure is the top reason why women hold back from entrepreneurial ventures.
Lead author of the women’s report Donna Kelley says, “When a woman has a choice between being an employee, especially when this is associated with an attractive salary, job stability, good benefits and even high social approval, she is taking a greater risk in entering entrepreneurship; she has to forego this opportunity in order to be an entrepreneur, and therefore has more to lose.” Women prefer to take the safer approach to progress their career and choose not to get into entrepreneurship.
Times.com published an article titled It’s Not You, It’s Science: How Perfectionism Holds Women Back that brought forth another reason why women tend to be hesitant when taking risks. Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists; they are unlikely to take a step forward unless they are absolutely 100 percent sure (where men function on 50%) that they can predict the outcome.
This attitude extends to all aspects of their professional life – be it asking for a pay increase or promotion, embarking on an entrepreneurial venture, or to answer or pose questions at a meeting. This proves to be a limiting factor when it comes to closing the gender gap and achieving the same career growth and opportunities as that of their male counterparts.
What is the Solution?
The first step to breaking these barriers is to reframe our own thinking. The biggest obstacle to a woman’s professional growth are the ideologies that are deeply ingrained in our minds due to norms set by society. Learn from the great women in today’s business world who are breaking free from these barriers and radicalising the idea of what women can achieve. Women like Indra Nooyi, Sheryl Sandberg, Irene Rosenfeld, Ursula Burns and Gail Katty, among others, are challenging stereotypes and paving the way for changing attitudes. Find inspiration from these women or from mentors to help break the barriers of your professional growth. behind closed doors can help you by opening the door to accomplished women and find mentors to guide you toward professional success.
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