Risk -- Even Just The Thought of It Hurts Women More Than Men

A new study has found that women see risk a lot more negatively than men.

According to newswise.com, "Risky situations increase anxiety for women but not for men, leading women to perform worse under these circumstances."

“On the surface, risky situations may not appear to be particularly disadvantageous to women, but these findings suggest otherwise,” the Web site quotes study author Susan R. Fisk, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stanford University, who defines a risky situation as any setting with an uncertain outcome in which there can be both positive or negative results, depending on some combination of skill and chance.

And it doesn't have to be whether it's only just when you consider jumping out of an airplane with only a parachute on your back.  

According to Fisk, people often think of an extreme physical or financial risk when they think about a “risky situation.” Yet, in reality, people encounter risky situations all of the time. Fisk cites raising one’s hand to offer an idea at a meeting full of judgmental co-workers, giving a boss feedback on his or her performance, and volunteering for a difficult workplace assignment as examples of risky situations.

 My husband has never been a risk-taker (other than marrying me, of course).  He likes going to the same restaurant every Sunday night in the same town, our one night out, and we've been doing it for about 15 years.  Ever since the OTHER restaurant we used to go to closed down.

I, on the other hand, changed jobs about every two or three years when I was younger, on the other hand, even taking a stab at my own business (but I was very lucky, taking the huge corporation I worked for with me as a client).

But it's not so true today.  My husband, who's in his 60s, has had to reinvent himself.  He's a dentist in a world turned upside down (for practitioners) because of Obamacare.  So he's decided to start diagnosing patients for sleep apnea -- a great idea, but one which has come with a huge price tag.  Courses.  Equipment.  Travel.  And what if it doesn't work?

Shockingly, he's the one looking on the bright side.  I'm the one stewing about losing the house.  It's funny how we've switched places.  Of course, bringing a child into the world, as I did, 13 years ago may have something to do with that!

Fisk studied women in four groups, giving them scenarios ranging from risky (giving ideas to a judgmental group) to not (giving ideas to a non-judgmental group).

Fisk found that when scenarios were framed in a risky way, women were more anxious than when the scenarios were framed in a non-risky way. Women who received risky scenarios scored 13.6 percent higher on the anxiety test than those who received non-risky scenarios. The framing of the scenarios did not have a statistically significant effect on men’s anxiety.

Fisk argues that women’s increased anxiety in risky situations may be due to the fact that these types of circumstances are riskier for women than men. “Prior research suggests that even if a woman has the same objective performance as a man, others are likely to judge her performance as worse and attribute her failure to incompetence instead of poor luck,” Fisk explained. “Furthermore, this body of research suggests that even absent the judgment of others, failure in a risky situation is more costly to women as it may reinforce or create self-doubt about their own competence.”

You think?

 Increased anxiety in risky settings is problematic for women because it may depress their ability to achieve, as Fisk also found that women have worse task performance than men in risky situations, even when they have the same ability in a non-risky setting. Fisk’s data on performance came from two diverse sources: an in-person experiment that required participants to answer verbal SAT questions and test grades from a large undergraduate engineering course.

As you might suspect, the women did worse than the men, even with the same or better skills than the men.

 “My findings have troublesome implications for women’s ability to achieve equality in the workplace,” Fisk said. “People frequently encounter high-risk, high-reward situations in workplaces, and if women avoid these situations or perform more poorly in them because they are more anxious, they will reap fewer rewards than otherwise similar men.”

Fisk believes that women’s anxiety and poorer performance in risky situations “may be an unexplored contributor to the dearth of women in positions of leadership and power, as success in these kinds of circumstances is often a precursor to career advancement and promotion.”


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