One of the greatest barriers to being innovative is reluctance to take risks. Why do people hold back? Fear of failure, looking foolish, making a mistake, being judged. This is true for both men and women. That said, women generally are more risk-averse than men. That can be useful as demonstrated during the most recent financial meltdown; women investment advisors fared far better than their male counterparts because they did not bet the farm (so to speak)
When it comes to innovation, you can’t do what hasn’t been done without putting yourself and your ideas out there. Why are women reluctant to take those necessary risks? I believe it comes down to lack of self-confidence. Women generally (nothing I write is ever about black and white situations; nothing is always true for all women or all men) have a harder time owning their successes. When something goes well, success is likely to be attributed to timing or circumstance or luck. When things go wrong, women are more likely to internalize that experience. That great idea flopped- a man is likely to think “it didn’t work” while a women will experience “I failed”. The potential emotional cost is higher.
What is self-confidence? Dictionary.com says “belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities”. I’d add that in involves a belief in your ability to do what you intend to do, that you are capable of creating a desired impact (self-efficacy). Add resilience- the ability to spring back from failure- which is possible because it does not define you. YOU are not a failure, that project was- and now you can learn from it.
Where am I going with this? I’ve been focusing on gender and innovation. The issue of confidence (or lack thereof) keeps coming up. And for a long time, I’ve known it’s a deterrent to women’s success in other ways. Sheryl Sandberg, in her recently released book, Lean In, writes “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” So- I’m now exploring what can I do to help women boost their confidence. Stay tuned.