Learning & Development, Talent

Does Female Risk Aversion Impact Career Advancement?

One of the traits that sets successful entrepreneurs apart from others is their appetite for risk. While risk obviously opens one up to failures, it’s also often the case that those willing to take greater risks are more likely to receive greater rewards—including financial rewards.


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Of course, the potential benefits of risk taking aren’t limited to entrepreneurialism. In fact, even wage earnings in traditional work environments can benefit from some calculated risk taking. Unfortunately, some employees—particularly women—may be too risk averse to realize these rewards.

Study Points to Risk Aversion Among Women

KPMG’s 2019 Women’s Leadership Study presents some data suggesting many women are somewhat risk averse, which may have negative impacts on their career potential. Here are some of the key findings of the study:

  • Less than half (43%) of women are open to taking bigger risks associated with career advancements, despite believing these risks can help them advance.
  • Among respondents, 69% indicated that they are more inclined to take smaller risks; 73% point to hard work as the key to their professional success.
  • Not being confident enough is the most common reason for not taking bigger risks, according to the survey. For example, female respondents indicated that they are concerned about looking like they don’t know enough or won’t be taken seriously.
  • Women of color are more open to taking bigger risks than white women (57% compared to 38%).
  • Women with less than 5 years’ experience are more willing to take risks than those with 15+ years of experience (45% compared to 37%).

The study was conducted using a 35-question online survey among 2,012 professional women in the United States, aged 18–64, who are college educated (2-year, 4-year, or advanced degree) and currently working in the “white-collar” workforce full-time.

Addressing the Issue

There are many factors often cited as potential reasons for the gap between men and women in senior leadership and management positions in corporate America, but risk aversion isn’t often included in that list. The data from KPMG may help shed some light on this additional potential source of gender gaps in the workplace.
Could risk aversion be holding back the potential of your female workers? What can you do to bring the issue to light and offer opportunities for women to become more willing to take risks that could lead to personal and professional rewards?