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Why women should take more risks

I recently watched Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, ‘Teach girls bravery, not perfection‘. It got me thinking about my own journey with becoming more confident and believing in myself and my abilities. So, in honour of International Women’s Day, I’d like to encourage girls and women to take more risks in life. Evidence suggests that we prevent ourselves from pursuing our dreams, which is something we should change.

This post centres around statistics and discussions surrounding cisgender women’s experiences. However, I hope that all of my readers get some excitement and inspiration out of this post!

Is it a matter of confidence?

An internal Hewlett Packard report reveals that men apply for jobs even if they only meet 60% of the requirements. Women, on the other hand, only apply if they meet all the requirements. Some experts have theorised that this is due to women having a lack of confidence in their abilities. However, in 2014, women’s leadership coach, Tara Sophia Mohr, was sceptical and decided to investigate this herself.

Mohr surveyed over a thousand American professional women and men. She asked them, ‘if you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?’

Interestingly, Mohr found that confidence was not really the issue. In fact, the most popular response to this question was the same for both the men and women surveyed. They wouldn’t apply for a job because they mistook the credentials given on the job posting for obligations rather than desirable characteristics. The fault here was not a lack of confidence, but rather a miscommunication on the part of employers and recruiters.

However, Mohr did notice some sizable gender differences in some of the other responses. Fear of failing and a need to follow guidelines kept much more women from applying for jobs than men. Mohr found that women were more likely to take a safe, ‘by-the-book’ approach to job applications than men. While a cautious approach ensured that these women met the requirements, it also prevented them from realising their ambitions.

Why women struggle to take risks

Socialisation

Playground study

There is substantial evidence that boys engage in more risk-taking behaviour than girls, even in toddlerhood. In their 1999 study, Barbara A. Morrongiello and Theresa Dawber investigated whether parental influence impacted how boys and girls approached a ‘firehouse-type pole’ in a playground.

Evidence suggests that during the toddler years, there is little to no variation in motor skills between boys and girls. However, this is what Morrongiello and Dawber found:

‘…the results indicate that parents differentially socialize sons and daughters with respect to injury-risk behaviors. Sons received more directives in how to perform injury-risk tasks independently, and parents made more demands of sons for such independence. In contrast, daughters received more cautions about safety and injury risk and were spontaneously assisted by parents more often than sons. These differences emerged despite the fact that there were no differences between sons and daughters in ability to perform a variety of playground tasks, including the pole task.’

Morrongiello B & Dawber T, 1999, ‘Parental Influences on Toddlers’ Injury-Risk Behaviors: Are Sons and Daughters Socialized Differently?’, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 227-251.

Approaching a harder task

This difference in socialisation is also seen in older children.

In the 1980s, psychologist Carol Dweck ran a series of tests to see how ‘bright’ fifth-grade girls and boys addressed tough and confusing material.

‘…bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up–and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than give up.’

Halvorson H, 2011, ‘The Trouble With Bright Girls’, Psychology Today.

Dweck found that the feedback a child receives from their teachers and parents affects how they interpret their abilities. Young girls are socialised to follow the rules and told how ‘good’ and ‘clever’ they are. This causes girls to interpret their abilities as innate and fixed. They are encouraged to reach a level of perfection which doesn’t exist and are therefore more likely to give up.

Boys, on the other hand, are shown to receive feedback based on their level of effort. For example, they may be told to ‘pay more attention’ or ‘try harder’. I’m sure these verbalisations also encourage unhealthy perfectionism. But it gives boys the impression that they can improve their skills through effort and practice.

Why women should take more risks

I must admit that I relate to a lot of the girls and women in these studies.

In kindergarten, we had to complete a playground ‘test’, in which we had to climb all of the various playground equipment to receive a sticker. Because I was too scared to swing on the monkey bars or slide down the fire-fighter’s pole, the teachers had to modify the test for me. To this day, I’m still yet to successfully swing across a monkey bar set (it’s become a goal of mine).

I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about his design work. I asked him how he became so good at Photoshop. He admitted that he noticed the application was pre-installed on his high school laptop. He just ‘played around’ with it for fun. This ‘playing around’ allowed him to learn the intricacies of Photoshop and gain confidence to create amazing designs.

This was both cool and strange to me. I also noticed in high school that our laptops had Photoshop installed. But I never clicked onto it out of fear that the school’s IT admins would discover my Photoshop tomfoolery. After all, our laptops were only supposed to be used for schoolwork. My boyfriend, on the other hand, was not too concerned about being caught.

However, this inspired me to rethink the way I approached my personal projects. For far too long, I suppressed creative ideas due to a fear of failure and a belief that my abilities were inadequate. And of course, with that attitude, I made no progress.

‘Playing around’

‘Play is a voluntary activity or occupation executed within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy and the consciousness that is ‘different’ from ‘ordinary life’.’

Huizinga J, 1938, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, p. 28.

There’s something fun about taking risks in creative projects. I used to enjoy taking creative risks in my English essays, even as a spineless teenager. Often, the essays in which I took the biggest chances received the highest grades.

Dutch historian and cultural philosopher Johan Huizinga argued that ‘play’ is older than culture. Culture presupposes human society, and animals play in the same way humans do. He claimed that play is fundamental to human nature. It is the driving force behind all aspects of civilisation, including art, politics, religion, and war.

Much like how my boyfriend ‘played around’ with Photoshop, we can play to engage our creative problem-solving abilities and learn new skills in the process. I believe that understanding this allows us to achieve more in a way that is most suitable to us.

I encourage women everywhere to re-examine the way they see themselves. We should take on a more relaxed and fun way to be creative, productive, and proactive. If I hadn’t taken the risk and ‘played around’ with WordPress and Clip Studio Paint, I wouldn’t have started my blog.

Concluding Thoughts

While the studies discussed in this post suggest that men are generally braver in the face of problems than women, I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions. There are probably women out there that have been socialised to be brave. And there might be some men that lack risk-taking skills. Some people may have been socialised in ways that are typical for one gender as a child, but now live life as a different gender as an adult.

Even though this blog mainly discusses the experiences of cis-gender women, I hope that all of my readers feel inspired to achieve their dreams. I highly encourage everyone to play, tinker, explore, and take more risks with regards to your careers and creative projects. I’m sure you’ll achieve some really cool things ?

Sources that weren’t cited but inspired me

Are Women Too Timid When They Job Search? by Kerry Hannon

To raise brave girls, encourage adventure by Caroline Paul

Teach girls bravery, not perfection (transcript) by Reshma Saujani

If you liked this post, you might enjoy…

It’s okay to be average

Knowing yourself

Don’t Look Up- coping during a crisis

5 replies on “Why women should take more risks”

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