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For Women at Work, Risk Taking Has Rewards yet Many Hesitate to Leap Into the Unfamiliar

January 22, 2019

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For Women at Work, Risk Taking Has Rewards yet Many Hesitate to Leap Into the Unfamiliar

When it comes to risk-taking in the workplace, seven in ten (69%) women are open to taking small risks to further their career, but far fewer (43%) are open to taking bigger risks that may be associated with career advancement, according to a study of over 2,000 professional women by KPMG LLP.

According to the research, women’s inclination to take risks declines as they become more experienced in their careers – even as their self-confidence grows. Forty-five percent of respondents with less than five years of experience say they are open to taking big risks to advance their careers, versus 37 percent with over 15 years of experience. Women of color are the biggest professional risk-takers, with 57 percent saying they are open to taking big chances versus 38 percent of white women.

“When it comes to their careers, many women find themselves in a bit of a bind. They’re trying to preserve their gains, so instead of playing to win, they’re often playing not to lose – whether hesitating to take perceived big risks, or feeling the need to take outsized chances,” said Michele Meyer-Shipp, KPMG’s Chief Diversity Officer.

Meanwhile, women see the benefits of risk-taking. The number one incentive is the opportunity to make more money, according to 40 percent of those surveyed. This factor ranks equally high across all experience levels and among women across all ethnic/racial groups. Yet, only a third of women surveyed (35%) say they’re confident about asking for a higher salary.

More than half surveyed (55 percent) believe people who take more career risks progress more quickly than others. They cited potential benefits of increased risk-taking including career advancement, increased confidence, personal development and building respect among colleagues.

“Women may benefit by taking more risks over the course of their careers, but they can’t go it alone,” said Meyer-Shipp. “Organizations must provide supportive structures including inclusive and diverse workplaces, professional development, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, all of which set up women to achieve, thrive and reach the highest levels.”

Just 8 percent of respondents say risk taking has contributed most to their professional success, crediting task-oriented factors over leadership traits. Women attributed success to good habits such as working hard (73 percent), being detail oriented (45 percent), and organized (45 percent). They were less likely to point to attributes such as being strong-willed (24 percent), creative (18 percent) or a good leader (17 percent). Only a minority of respondents (43 percent) say they have talked about their accomplishments or raised their personal external visibility over the past three years.

To learn more about the 2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Risk, Resilience, Reward read the full report.

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