Women Aren’t Risk-Averse, They Just Face Consequences When They Take Risks
There are only 32 women among the chief executives at the largest 500 companies in the United States. As a result of these low numbers, professional women are oftenadvised to take more risks at work to increase their chances of attaining these high-level leadership roles. This advice is based on widespread claims that women are more risk-averse than men, both at work and outside of work. Now, new research suggests women may not be any more risk-averse than men, but women may encounter more backlash and negative consequences than men when taking risks at work.
The new study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly found “no evidence” for gender differences in risk-taking at work. These findings are in stark contrast to past studies that found men were more likely to be risk-takers. The lead author of the study, Thekla Morgenroth, a psychology professor at Purdue University, explains that many past studies focused too much on risky behaviors typically associated with men. They explain, “If you ask people ‘how likely would you be to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet?’ then, surprise, surprise, men are more likely than women to say they will do that. But if you ask people how likely they would be to go horseback riding, or engage in cheerleading, which are also very physically dangerous sports, then the gender differences reverse.”
In other words, if you measure stereotypically masculine risks, it’s not surprising that men are more likely to say they would partake. Women’s risk-taking behaviors, like undergoing cosmetic surgery, are often overlooked by researchers who are measuring risk tolerance.
Another oft-used measure of risk tolerance is a willingness to skydive. Only 14% of skydivers are women, but that doesn’t mean women are risk-averse. Cordelia Fine, professor at the University of Melbourne and a coauthor of the study, points out in her book, Testosterone Rex, “In the United States, being pregnant is about twenty times more likely to result in death than a skydive.” Indeed, if women were truly risk-avoidant, the fate of humanity would be in jeopardy.