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A Professional Woman’s Most Important Traits?

Risk-taking and confidence are equal to competence


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Risk. Resilience. Reward. Mastering these skills are the key that can unlock the door to a woman’s success in the workplace, according to a new study that surveyed more than 2,000 professional women.

When it comes to risk-taking in the workplace, seven in ten women are open to taking small risks to further their career. However, only 43 percent are open to taking bigger risks that may be associated with career advancement. The study reveals why risk-taking is vital for women to advance to leadership roles. Perhaps paradoxically, a woman’s inclination to take risks declines as she becomes more experienced in her career – even as her self-confidence grows.

Confidence correlates with competence

How can we empower more women to consider smart risk-taking and encourage them to take action that will ultimately benefit not only themselves, but also the organization as a whole? It starts with confidence, because success in business correlates as much with confidence as it does with competence.

I’ve seen this play out in my own career and that of others who I manage and mentor. In fact, a lack of self-confidence can really hold some women back, which is why I’m so passionate about supporting and mentoring other women. In turn, I have benefitted from the support of other professionals who have mentored me and have participated in local networking groups that host workshops to address these challenges.

Growing and retaining female leaders

Despite these findings, women are on the right path and things have improved significantly with an increase in female role models. However, progress is slow and there continue to be challenges that hold women back from realizing their full potential.

Several recent studies and articles echo these themes. For example, a  Jan. 16, 2019 U.S. News & World Report article says that fear of failure can plague women and be an obstacle to success. It goes on to say that “statistics on women in major leadership roles underscore the need to retain and grow the number of women leaders.”  Data released in Sept. 2018 by the Pew Research Center found that in 2017 there were only 32 women leading Fortune 500 companies — an all-time high of 6.4 percent.

Concerns with perception

What specifically is holding women back? For many women, it’s a concern with how others perceive them. For example, some of the survey participants cited their concerns as looking like they don’t know as much as they should, being ignored or not taken seriously, failing something they try and looking like they are doing something or saying something that isn’t smart. Growing confidence is a key factor in achieving success.

Women can’t go it alone

While women can benefit by being more confident and taking more risks over the course of their career, they can’t go it alone. Organizations must provide supportive structures, including inclusive and diverse workplaces, professional development, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities – all of which position women to achieve, thrive and reach the highest levels.

Confidence building tips

Make a conscious effort to ask for what you want: Be clear about your true motivations, wants and needs. This self-knowledge is the foundation for confidence and greater assertiveness.

Speak early, often and calmly and have a point of view; don’t just act as a facilitator. Don’t be afraid to defend your position.

Take risks – no risk, no reward. And last, but not least, never give up — because the only true failure is quitting.

Nina Currigan is an Advisory Managing Director in the Denver office of KPMG LLP, a leading global professional services firm providing audit, tax and advisory services to clients.

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