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Yes, if you are a woman.

Finding yourself in a risky situation at work can lead to higher levels of anxiety and reduced performance, especially if you are a woman, but not if you are a man.

What sort of risky situations?
Well, this could be a setting where an outcome is uncertain, where there could be a positive or negative result depending on the combination of skill and chance.
For example:

•    You’re sitting in a room full of judgmental co-workers. Would you raise your hand to offer a new idea?

•    You have to give your boss feedback on their performance.

•    You have to decide whether or not to volunteer for a difficult workplace assignment.

Susan Fisk from Stanford has conducted a mixed methods study to examine the difference in how risky scenarios are perceived by men and women (of equal capability), and the difference it made to their anxiety levels and subsequent performance.

The results?
In the risky scenarios, women scored more highly on anxiety scores by around 13-14%. The men’s anxiety scores were unchanged.
When more anxious, the women performed worse than men in risky situations despite having the same capabilities. Their ability to achieve was depressed, which in the workplace scenario could mean they could miss out on a promotion or recognition for their work.

The implication here is that unless a workplace seeks to eliminate situations that are unnecessarily high stakes, this could be why women either choose to avoid high risk situations altogether, or perform more poorly as a result of their higher anxiety levels.

Is this a contributing factor as to why there are fewer women in positions of power and leadership?
Why fewer choose to “lean in”?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

American Sociological Association (ASA). “Risky situations increase women’s anxiety, hurt their performance compared to men.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140817215856.htm>

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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