By Linda Imonti
According to a recent study by KPMG, less than half of women (43%) are willing to take big risks when it comes to advancing their career. I’ve spent much of my 30-plus year career working with my colleagues to 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.
Many women are faced with a confidence crisis that holds them back. In fact, that same study found that women tend to become more risk-averse the longer they are in the professional world, not less.
Especially when you become more established in your career, as I have over 30-plus years in the consulting industry, you begin to evaluate risk and reward on a much deeper level. One way that I have balanced a high-pressure career was to take on a passion outside of work that provided me with a way to feel empowered and use different skills than I did day-to-day. For me it was off-road riding.
I’ve always considered myself a person who looked for challenges and faced them head-on, but I’ve also seen numerous examples where other women have chosen to not take a risk, and regretted it later on.
Riding trails is a challenge that takes 100 percent focus, and you are going to make many mistakes before you find success. You can’t think about anything else while you are on a dirt bike or ATV, but at the same time, being out on the trails brings a sense of calm. And that has taught me some important lessons about my responsibility.
Don’t fear other people’s perception: The study found that 41 percent of women are held back because they are concerned with how their ambition may be perceived. I tell the women that I mentor, “Own who you are. If you’re a high-intensity type A, own it.” Find an outlet that matches who you are and focus your attention where it matters. This is something I do in my own life as well.
Failure can be a success: When you learn to ride in the sand you will typically use the brake at first which makes you go down. After a few times you learn that acceleration is the key. The same goes for business. Failing fast means understanding how something that didn’t work as expected the first time, can actually move you into a better direction.
Be a mentor: I’ve made it a point to mentor women coming up in the business as I have risen in my own career. Not only does it help me understand better the challenges that other women are facing, but it has helped me to build a cohort of other women leaders who are now rising to the pinnacle of their careers.
It’s never too late to start: I came to riding late in life. In fact, I didn’t take it on until my 40’s. It was intimidating at first, but like in business, on the trails it is not about speed, but about the challenge that might be right around the corner: rocks, water, mud, trees. As you accomplish each small challenge, you gain more confidence in your abilities.
Caution has its place. But in today’s fast paced business world, where diverse perspectives and thinking are needed more than ever, women have tremendous opportunities to grow and lead.
Linda Imonti is managing principal of KPMG's Chicago office.. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Libby Langsdorf.