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Risk Taking: Men have an edge, Women closing the gap

Our experts share the differences between how men and women take risks keeping in mind parameters like ambition, society, emotions, obligations, etc:

Lincy Therattil, Barclays Rise: I wouldn’t say women are risk averse, but they are usually constrained by the potential impact that their decisions could have on the lives of their near and dear ones. Women balance so many things that they usually prefer the status quo. Anything that is likely to disturb the equilibrium in their life is usually frowned upon. Much like any financial analyst who does a thorough cost-benefit analysis before recommending any action, women too have so many criteria and considerations for a decision that often takes into account the incremental returns. Whereas for men, their primary criterion for risk taking is usually the expected reward and they rarely have to deal with dilemmas and considerations that tend to weigh down women’s risk-taking ability.

Jaya Janardanan, Indostar Capital: In corporate life, both men and women take risks, but they take it differently. When a man takes a risk, compliments come up such as – see his vision, he knows what he wants in life, he is very ambitious, etc. However, when a woman takes a risk, questions are asked such as – does she know what she is getting into, is she making the right choice, can she manage it in a men’s world, etc. People expect woman to have a very stable job, and to not be very courageous and confident. So, the adjectives used for risk taking men and women are very different. We have a very low diversity in the corporate world, so the ratio of women to men is also very low. So, the ability to accept women as peers is a little difficult. That itself is a risk that a woman takes in the corporate world.

Here at IndoStar, one of my responsibilities was to set up a call center. When I shared the thought process and idea of building my call center with back to work women to my CEO, his response was ‘great idea, we should do it.’ He was very supportive of this concept. All my peers also stood by it and said ‘yes we should do it.’ But with all of it, it was a risk we all took. No one has ever attempted something of this kind earlier. But it’s the trust of my CEO, my colleagues and of the women who wanted to return to work and make a career that has helped to make it a strong call centre. A risk that was taken but well delivered.

Jasmin Ignatius, BNY Mellon: I do not believe that any one gender has necessarily more risk aversion than the other; but I do believe that unless women are in a state of 100% readiness to face a risk, they do not take a plunge whereas men are likely to take actions even earlier.

Ruchi Bubber: Earlier, there were differences in risk-taking. Now, I think women are almost equal in terms of risk in the current environment in the last 10-15 years. Just look at the number of women entrepreneurs that have come up. Take covid for example. So many socio-commerce entrepreneurs and small-scale businesses have started by women. That’s a very good indicator of their risk appetite. I have also seen in my career that women leaders do have a lot of courage and ability to stand up so I would like to say women now in the current scenario are almost at par in terms of risk taken as compared to men. It wasn’t that 30 years ago. But it is now.

Vandana Trivedi, IDFC AMC: I do not think so. In my opinion, risk taking finds its roots in the awareness, ambition and drive that professionals bring to the table rather than in their gender differences.

Sunita Rath, Aegon Life: I have taken many risks, but a nudge and a push were required. Research suggests that women are generally more averse than men to taking risk. When an opportunity comes, a man will take it even if he is only 70% prepared. Whereas a woman, even if she is 90% prepared, will think over and over again. There is the fear of failure and fear of unknown that prevents them to take the plunge Also, women are always trying to prove themselves to others and to themselves.

Risk-taking is interpreted differently by men and women. Men are more comfortable with bigger risks and with financial risks. Women are slightly less comfortable with financial and relationship risks, managing conflicts, etc. owing to the social/ family obligations. Often, they compromise on their ambitions for family reasons. However, times are changing with the new generation energetically and actively pursuing their career goals and undertaking necessary risks as well.

Purvi Bhavsar, Pahal Financial Services: I don’t want to generalize it but as I already said earlier, women are generally more balanced. And at times, this goes against her in terms of taking even the calculated risk or not taking any risk at all! I have seen this more often during my professional career when some of them would choose to be safe at the cost of not growing in their career.

Namrata Sehgal, Sub-K IMPACT Solutions: Women do factor in a lot of parameters when they take major decisions. I have a lot of social dependencies and have to take care of a lot of those obligations. Men do have a wider social safety net per se, but I think at the end of the day, it is a very individual choice that you make when you are taking those decisions.

I think what really matters is who you are as an individual, where you are in your life at the moment, what is your situation in terms of your career path, what stage are you in your life. All these things will have a major impact on the decisions you take on the risk-taking ability that you have.

Sumanlatha Sanghi, ANZ: While risk taking is lower in women, things are changing these days. There are lots of opportunities available to men and women and each one has a choice of what they want to do. There are many tools and support mechanisms that help women and men take risk. Personal situations also impact the decision around taking risks – it’s the same for both men and women. Nowadays a lot of women are the sole breadwinners for the family even in the organized corporate sector and there is nothing wrong in that. Men are willing to play softer roles and let women take the lead. There is a greater focus in corporates on empowering women to take risks and right decisions. It’s up to the women to take the right path. Many sessions on coaching, mentoring, senior leadership support, career development plans are now making it easier for women to take that leap. This was not the case about 10 years ago and was tough to make decisions.

Rajashree Nambiar, Fullerton India Credit Company: Having worked with men and women in my career, I wouldn’t say that women take lesser risks than men. I would surely say that women actually take more emotional decisions in most things than men. It could be because I find that when women come to the workplace they seem to be less encumbered. Men seem to think that they are more responsible, they are more encumbered. So, men do not take hasty emotional decisions, women tend to take, and that’s my experience.

Mabel Chacko, Open Financial Technologies: It is said that men take risks when they are under stress and women don’t take risk when they are under stress. I personally don’t feel that it has got something to do with gender. It’s just about taking calculated risks at different points of time and being accountable for whatever decisions you have taken.

Pratima Thomas, Fino Payments Bank: I feel women are conservative when it comes to risk-taking. But believe me, I have met many women hustlers who have taken significant risks in their personal as well as professional life – some have succeeded and some have failed. Because of the role we are perceived to play in various societies across the world, the entire risk-taking attitude stems in from that perspective. Except when it comes to protecting their young ones, there a woman/mother could take all the risks possible. Women often take a side-step giving preference to their better half or family. So, there is a stark different in the approach of men and women. Though, I have met many men who are conservative about risk taking. In profession too, women tend not to speak out loudly, as compared to men, ie, not taking that risk as they may feel inadequate. But for men, even the silliest of thoughts come out very easily. Women think more about what they will be perceived like as compared to men. Some of us are very lucky to be in a conducive environment where we can come out with whatever we have to say, but there are some for whom this itself is a major risk.

Noopur Chaturvedi, PayU: Yes, of course. From time immemorial, men have been ‘stepping out’ of their comfort zone, either to hunt or farm or even battle. Women have stayed closer home, in more nurturing roles. This historical perspective has somehow led to levels of risk taking and confidence being higher in men than in women.

As practical examples, I’ve seen a lot of women entrepreneurs start their business from their own funds, expanding slowly and judiciously, while men-founded startups rely more on funding from the beginning. In other situations, I’ve seen men negotiate for a pay hike or that promotion much more aggressively than women. And even if you look at their financial or investment portfolios, it will be starkly different, more risk averse for women.

If you ask me whether this low-risk appetite is right or wrong, there is no clear answer. One should reflect on own risk-taking appetite (as well as their phase in life), and try to push herself a little out of the comfort zone. If you keep taking risks in some areas, you will soon have the confidence to take firmer, bolder chances in all areas of life.

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