Study: Risk Taking Has Rewards for Women at Work, Yet Many Hesitate

KPMG has released a study that says more working women are willing to take small risks than big risks to further their careers.

Seven in 10 women (69 percent) are open to taking small risks in the workplace to further their career, but only 43 percent are willing to take bigger risks associated with career advancement, according to a study released today of more than 2,000 professional women by KPMG, an international accounting and auditing firm with a large practice in downtown Detroit.

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. Some 45 percent of respondents with fewer than five years of experience say they are open to taking big risks to advance their careers, versus 37 percent with more than 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,” says Michele Meyer-Shipp, chief diversity officer at KPMG. “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.”

But women do see the benefits of risk-taking. The No. 1 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 percent) say they’re confident about asking for a higher salary.

More than half of those 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,” says Meyer-Shipp. “Organizations must provide supportive structures including inclusive and diverse workplaces, professional development, (and) 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). A minority of respondents (43 percent) say they have talked about their accomplishments or raised their personal external visibility over the past three years.

Click here for the full report.