BE A RISK-TAKER: 4 WOMEN SHOW YOU HOW
The benefit of embracing risk is a favourite topic for researchers, and so is the stereotype that women don’t do it enough. But we can be risk-takers, and here are four women who prove it.
Conventional wisdom says women avoid risk at all costs—we don’t tend to invest, take chances at work or flock to extreme sports.
But the conversation is actually much more complicated. For starters, women do take risks—just not always in the same way as men. Traditionally, what counts as risky behaviour is what the now-retired psychologist Marvin Zuckerman calls “sensation-seeking”—when people crave a rush from mental or physical stimulation. Sensation seekers dislike boredom and search out new experiences, which is why you’ll find them skydiving or playing the stock market.
But the definition of risk is broader than that. In her 2016 book, The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution and Chance, American author Kayt Sukel cites a review of literature that found women take tons of risks. “They just don’t tend to go all in when it comes to…monetary gambles,” she writes. “Where you’ll see women showing a good bit of risky behaviour is the social arena, which may be a place they feel more comfortable taking on uncertainty…. Women are much more likely to bring up an unpopular issue with a group or even change careers later in life than men are—things that are fairly risky when you thoroughly consider them.”
And, for the record, even when it comes to traditional risks, the gender difference may not be as fixed as previous studies would suggest. A 2012 review of literature by University of Massachusetts Boston economics professor Julie A. Nelson found that, despite the perception women are more risk-averse, there was actually a lot of overlap between men’s and women’s behaviour. It was simply masked by researchers’ confirmation bias. (They expected a difference, so they saw one.)
That’s why it’s worth thinking about social pressure. If conventional wisdom says extreme sports aren’t ladylike or girls aren’t good at math, it’s no surprise that we might avoid these endeavours. But the rising numbers of female athletes, entrepreneurs and investors support the idea that at least part of what makes us riskaverse is nurture, not nature.
We spoke to four women who exemplify that risk-taking ethos. Here’s what they had to say about not letting fear get in the way, overcoming obstacles and the long-term benefits of taking chances.