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Today’s episode covers what it means to have risk tolerance and how to increase it in your career.  It’s another key part of your career strategy as a woman engineer. 

Risk tolerance is the capacity you have to take risk. The ease with which you accept the consequences of risk. 

You see this term a lot in financial investing. But in this context I’m referring to the risks you take in getting ahead in your engineering career. The risk in reaching your goals. Realizing your vision. Manifesting your dream career.

Risk tolerance is a leadership characteristic that helps you reach higher levels of leadership. Attain goals faster. Compete and show results. Generally it’s a good characteristic for leaders to have: Higher risk tolerance contributes to strong leadership.

Low risk tolerance tends to correlate to being timid, hesitant and cautious. To having a one-step-at-a-time mentality. 

People who have low risk tolerance tend to be more traditional or conventional and like things to be under control. They’re more comfortable with the status quo and the familiar. They care about the way things are right now. 

In the extreme, they’re sometimes perceived to be fearful, slow to change or respond, backward, old-school, boring, or holding us back.

High risk tolerance tends to correlate to being bold, confident, and ready. A dive-right-in mentality. People who are highly risk tolerant tend to be more forward-looking and comfortable with change and the unfamiliar.

In the extreme they are sometimes perceived to be reckless, insensitive, uncontrolled, hasty, unsafe, or going too far.

These are the two ends of the spectrum of risk tolerance. And there’s a whole gamut in between. If you’re in the low-to-mid section of the spectrum, the way to migrate toward the high end is simply to take more risk.

Consequences of Taking Risk in Your Engineering Career

We take risk because there’s a reasonable possibility of positive payoff. If the risk taking action is successful, then you gain that payoff. 

But there’s vulnerability involved. You have to put yourself out there. You have to take a stand that might not be favorable to everyone. You have to deal with what people say. What will happen is not entirely known. There are no guarantees. It’s uncomfortable. 

Then, if the risk taking action fails, there’s a lesson to learn, of course, but you also have to deal with the effects of the failure.

As you take more risk you go through these experiences, both good and bad. You learn how to accept and handle the consequences. Thus you build resilience. And you build risk tolerance.

How Women Engineers Can Move Up on the Spectrum of Risk Tolerance

It may be that men take more professional risk than women. Or it may be that women and men just take different kinds of risk. I don’t know. But in my experience women engineers tend to lack risk tolerance. A generalization to be sure. 

But it makes sense to me because many are so cautious to show competence without drawing the wrong kind of attention. Without doing anything hasty or uncalculated. In other words, by not taking any risk.

If you currently don’t take enough risk, I encourage you to focus on it and build a risk strategy.

Focusing on risk taking is a way to apply mindfulness to your work and ensure that riskier activities are included. Building a risk strategy means intentionally incorporating riskier activities into your goals and your development plan. 

As always, I’m here to help you with your risk strategy and other career approaches. My goal is to help you not only realize your vision but experience a fulfilling and impactful journey along the way. 

Learn about my Signature Program on my website. You don’t have to do this alone. Simply fill out the application. I’d love to schedule a Discovery Call with you.

Ideas for Your Risk Strategy

Risk is relative. It’s an individual characterization based on your background, experience, and personal tendencies. What’s risky to one person may not be to another. Here are 3 ideas for your risk strategy:

  1. The first thing to do in your strategy is define what risk means for you. And define what a risk taking activity would be for you. 

Maybe it’s something straightforward, like submitting a paper or proposal, or talking to someone higher up in the organization and asking for mentorship. 

Maybe it’s more challenging, like engaging in negotiations or hiring or firing someone. Maybe it’s much more game-changing, like accepting a new position, stretching into a promotion, or moving to a new location.

  1. Determine, plan and track your risk taking activities. Get ideas from others by watching what they do. And ask for input from mentors and colleagues. 

Incorporate the risk taking activities into your development plan for the next year and track your progress. Notice what areas of your work could benefit from more risk taking. Notice where you’ve improved and celebrate that.

  1. Gradually increase the frequency and risk level of your risk taking activities. If you are highly risk averse, start small. Choose one challenge and plan to take it on in the next couple weeks. 

If you’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, you can challenge yourself a little more. 

As you increase your risk taking activity, your risk tolerance increases. Thus the more risk taking you do, the easier it becomes. 

Strategize higher professional risk tolerance to increase your abilities and bolster your confidence. An intentional strategy for increasing your risk tolerance will be beneficial as you move into leadership roles and take on more responsibilities within your organization. 

You’ll find that more opportunities open up to you and you’ll feel prepared and self-assured to pursue them.

Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast we’ll temper any unease you may have about risk taking with some ideas to maintain energy and reduce stress during your work day. I hope you’ll join me for Episode 36.