MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important for women to take risks in business? is written by Mary Beth Laughton, senior vice president of e-commerce and digital marketing at Sephora.
Taking risks involves the ability to recognize opportunities, the courage to go after them, and the confidence to stand by them. Frankly, I’ve never really thought of myself as a risk taker. Growing up, I was the Midwestern, ‘girl next door’ type who liked staying within the lines. But looking back now I realize that I am a risk taker. I’ve taken a variety of risks – big and small – but all rewarding in some way.
In fact, one of the biggest risks I took was when I was offered the chance to move to Europe with my employer at the time. It was my first big management opportunity and it came along at the same time I found out I was pregnant with my first child. It would have been easy to say no; the safer path was to stay in the role I already had where my success was more assured and the environment was familiar. But I took a risk and moved to Amsterdam where I spent many months living and working by myself before my husband was able to move his job. That experience was terrifying and very challenging, but ultimately let me grow so much as a leader, and gain a whole new level of confidence in myself that I have taken with me to other opportunities. I often draw on that experience in times of uncertainty and think to myself, ‘if I could do that, I can definitely do this!’
I’ve learned that all risks don’t need to be big in order to benefit from them. Smaller risks — pushing for new initiatives, or speaking up to debate a decision — can have significant impact as well. Sometimes these risks are well-received and other times they’re not. But regardless, these risk-taking moments have been some of my greatest learning experiences.
The main reason women need to take risks in business is simple: to encourage other women they work with to push the boundaries. Driving incremental change just isn’t as satisfying or impactful, and women leaders today have the opportunity to do so much more. When I think about my four year old daughter, I hope she is a risk-taker. It doesn’t mean she needs to take risks at every turn, but I want her to have the confidence to take a path she believes in, stand by it, and see the benefits.
As for the women I work with (and since I work at Sephora, that’s most of my team), I hope they too have the confidence and courage to push me and us as an organization to take risks and pursue new opportunities. Especially in the digital space where taking risks is not only helpful, it’s critical to stay ahead in a world that is moving at a rapid pace. It is only through taking risks that we will continue to reach new heights. And for myself, I hope I don’t lose the courage of that young executive who moved to Europe. She is the type of leader I want to continue to be.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important for women to take risks in business?
Why it’s okay to break the rules at work by Susan Coelius Keplinger, entrepreneur.
Why recent graduates shouldn’t plan their careers by Teresa Briggs, vice chair and west region managing partner at Deloitte.
Is gender bias a reason to quit your job? by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.
The one way to guarantee failure at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
Why starting my own business at 25 was a huge mistake by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.
Build-A-Bear CEO: Why women need to take risks in business by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.