Women take less risks than men, both inside and outside of work. True or false?
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While the above statement has long been considered to be true, recent research is proving otherwise. According to an April 2022 study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, women are not any more risk-averse than men, but they may face more backlash and negative consequences than men when taking risks at work.
Let’s break it down. First, the researchers checked whether women really took fewer risks than men. What, exactly, could be considered as risk-taking behaviour? For a long time, studies assessed it as high-adrenaline and stereotypically masculine ventures – like skydiving, and riding a motorcycle without a helmet. In both of these scenarios, women were less likely to participate. According to statistics by United States Parachute Association (USPA), only 14 per cent of skydivers are women.
On the other hand, very few reports looked into other kinds of risky behaviours, like horseback riding and cheerleading – both of which are physically dangerous sports – where the gender differences reverse, according to the study. Even cosmetic surgery is often overlooked by researchers analysing risk tolerance, according to an April 2022 report in US-based business news magazine Forbes.
One of the riskiest experiences since the dawn of humanity – childbirth – is purely a woman’s domain. In the book Testosterone Rex, University of Melbourne professor and psychologist Cordelia Fine states that in the US, being pregnant is about 20 times more likely to result in a death than a skydive. So, if women weren’t risk-takers, the entire fate of humanity would be in jeopardy.
When women do take risks, however, especially at work, the pay-off for them may not be the same as their male counterparts, according to the study. Women reported more negative consequences when they took risks at work, while men reported more positive outcomes. An August 2020 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that women are often penalised at work for their ambition, while research by the American Bar Association found that they receive negative responses when they behave assertively. Women are even penalised when they ask for higher pay, according to an August 2012 study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.
Since their risk-taking isn’t paying off, women are less likely to repeat the same risks in the future.
As organisations try to reduce the gender gap at work and build a more prosperous environment, perhaps they could switch their focus, in light of recent studies. Instead of getting women to take more risks, businesses could make an effort to ensure both men and women receive the same rewards, when they do.