October 2, 2019
Women are more resilient than they may think. It’s just that they don’t always realize that the skills they’ve used in their personal life to get through hard times can also be used in the business world, says Jennifer Webb, an American Management Association instructor who teaches a new AMA course, Women Leading with Impact: Resilience and Strategic Risk-Taking.
AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center wanted to find out how businesswomen can get better at being resilient and taking risks. We asked Webb to share her expertise on these topics.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a setback. Why do so many women lack this skill?
Jennifer Webb: They don’t lack this skill, because in many instances they have had to deal with many setbacks. But they don’t realize it or know how to use the tools and skills they already possess. Their inability to tap into their resilience is often aligned with hidden fears that get in the way of their productivity and confidence.
What are the first steps toward being a more resilient risk-taker?
JW: Risk-taking involves first realizing the importance of risk-taking and then starting to get comfortable [with] being uncomfortable. Risk-taking in the business world is frightening—it often means an increased possibility of failure. Once women understand their company’s culture, and who is promoted or admired for their abilities to take risks, then they can address what risk, albeit small, they can start to apply. That might mean asking a tough question, disagreeing with the group or boss, or asking for an assignment that will ensure exposure.
How do you determine what a “strategic” risk is?
JW: Strategic risk management means identifying, quantifying, and mitigating any risk that affects a company’s business strategy and objectives. It does take a level of self-confidence to take any risk, let alone one that can truly impact a company’s growth and development.
Many women don’t step out of their comfort zones because of a history of failure or of others shutting them down. What’s the strategy for getting past that?
JW: It is looking to see what beliefs are trapping women and frightening them to stay where they are. But we can change the beliefs we are still telling ourselves. We believed in Santa Claus once, but that didn’t make him real, and these false beliefs aren’t real, either. I recommend strategizing one small way to get outside your comfort zone. Get help from colleagues or mentors if necessary. How would someone you admire do it? Imagine emulating that person’s attitude.
What role do male colleagues play in a woman’s lack of resilience or fear of risk in business?
JW: I don’t think male colleagues play a role. I do think that men can be intimidating, [particularly] if women have grown up intimidated by the men in their lives. On the other hand, men can be great role models for taking risks and handling conflict effectively.
No one, male or female, is responsible for a woman’s lack of resilience or risk aversion. She is responsible, and often needs to examine what beliefs she is still holding on to that undermine her confidence and power.