Why take risks? Generally, the greater the risk involved with a position or career, the greater the potential monetary reward. Terms such as "high risk-high reward" are commonly used in business settings.

Women too often retreat to what we consider "safe" jobs, where we perceive that we have less to lose. Unfortunately, we also have much less to gain.

People who put themselves "on the line," who are measured by how much business they generated, how much sales increased during their ad campaign, or how much costs were contained, risk their good favor and their jobs on a regular basis. They are also paid well. Those of us who support them, who are measured by the tasks we accomplish, or even our attendance record, will forever be lower paid.

Chastian believes people generally fall into two categories in how they view risk. Risk-takers think about what they might gain from taking a risk, while others think about what they might lose. A chasm exists between the two types. Risk-takers believe they are worth more, have higher aspirations, and usually end up with more of life's rewards.

While this may be a simplified view, let's say these two categories exist. In business, women are less likely to be risk-takers than men. People who are not risk-takers are quick to offer reasons why something cannot be done. Where change is needed for progress, and progress is needed to stay in business, people who talk about why things can't be done don't get ahead.

Over and over, risk-taking comes up in a business context. Results-oriented positions have an inherent risk because they involve so much leeway in their execution. We must learn to distinguish between calculated risks, such as making an educated investment in a stock, and risks over which we have no control, such as investing in a lottery ticket.

Melia and Lyttle propose that women might not understand why we should knowingly seek what we consider to be a dangerous mode of action when we can avoid it. We don't recognize that there is inherent risk in taking the initiative. Conversely, the man who does only his job, no matter how well he does it, lacks initiative.

Sam talked with me after his third week on a job with a new company. He had ordered something to be printed in a rush, not knowing that he would not get the chance to review it before the final printing. It was completed on time, but with a mistake, and it could not be used. The mistake cost his company an extra $4,100. Sam mentioned it in passing, annoyed with the situation, but not fearful. How many women could make a $4,100 mistake in their third week on the job without going into a panic? The fear of failure can cause a competent woman to do a poor job in a position that requires savvy and initiative and involves risk.

Good business people in key decision-making positions are more afraid of inaction than of failure. In a forward-thinking company, people are encouraged to take chances, try new things, and make a profit. This typically means they will make mistakes along the way.

At one company I watched a vice president, who had been with our company less than a year, make a big mistake. After some internal research, he decided to invest $3 million in a product that had been designed elsewhere. After the acquisition, he made the painful discovery that the product would not work for most people he had intended to sell it to. The product had a narrowly defined market, and it appeared to be saturated. Three million dollars, essentially down the drain. Sure, this vice president had some explaining to do. But he is now president of the company. He knew that it would be riskier to take no action than to make a mistake. To be vice president of sales meant taking risks. The results of any decision or action would be unknown. Maybe you don't aspire to be president of a company, but risk avoidance is deadly in any results-oriented position.


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