May 28th, 2009 | 1:00 pm

Simmons Survey: Businesswomen Take Risks Too

filed under Office Politics

Contributed by Michelle Fabio

A recent survey of more than 650 managerial women by the Simmons School of Management in Boston has concluded that women business leaders are indeed risk takers, contrary to the common misconception that they are risk-averse; as a glaring example, according to the report, the current financial crisis is often characterized by the media in gendered terms and phrases such as “credit default swap cowboys” with “too much testosterone” in Wall Street’s “Wild West” atmosphere.

Although most mainstream research regarding risk-taking often focuses on hypothetical allocation of financial resources, when the definition of “risk” is expanded to include professional and business opportunities as it was in the Simmons’ survey, the results show that between 56% and 80% of women business leaders are risk takers, especially involving pursuing major changes, new programs, new jobs, and major business development opportunities.

The women managers surveyed said they embraced risk in their careers because they believed it “would help them gain influence, higher compensation, and career rewards,” according to one of the survey’s authors, Sylvia Maxfield. But this hope often fails to translate into such promotions–and certainly doesn’t seem to be changing the widely-held perception that women in leadership positions are risk-averse.

So why the gap between reality and prevailing ideas regarding women business leaders and their relationship with risk?

Survey authors Maxfield, Vipin Gupta, Mary Shapiro, and Susan Hass, say that aside from societal perceptions that view businesswomen as risk-averse, part of the reason is that women tend to keep quiet about their risk-taking, i.e., by engaging in little self-promotion and not seeking out promotions or high-status promotions as rewards for successful ventures.

According to the survey authors, in order to have their risk-taking recognized both within and outside organizations, women should actively seek credit for their successful risk-taking ventures by:

  1. Talking in terms of risk and cost-benefit, specifically using such words to be clear that risks were involved in making certain decisions;
  2. Promoting their successes with higher-level managers, emphasizing risks, challenges, and decisions made;
  3. Teaming up with fellow risk-takers on new projects to become identified as a risk-taker and be present for future risk-taking opportunities.

The report, which asks the question, “Are women risk averse, or are there gendered dynamics that obfuscate or mislabel their risk-taking?” was prepared by the Center for Gender Organizations, the research arm of the Simmons School of Management, an established leader in the training of women as business leaders.

According to its website, the Center’s mission is to be “a leadership forum for scholars and executives determined to improve organizational effectiveness by strengthening gender equity and diversity in the workplace” and operates on the belief that “businesses benefit when they view gender equity as a strategic imperative and a source of competitive advantage.”

The full survey results are available as a downloadable e-book at: CGO Insights No. 28: Risky Business: Busting the Myth of Women as Risk Averse.

Michelle Fabio is the author of About.com Guide to Law School and freelance writer for OnlineEducation.net, where she writes about online education resources.

2 comments

  1. Tony

    I think the problem with many executives in general is that they take too much risk. Why else are we in a recession?

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