No Risk. No Reward. Period.
We asked four senior STEM women to share how they approach taking risks in their careers.
When it comes to taking risks in the workplace, only 43% of women are open to taking bigger risks to further their careers. Although it may be easier to stay in your comfort zone, taking risks is the only way to achieve great outcomes. Here’s Gotara’s founder and CEO, D. Sangeeta’s risk taking quote: “No risk. No reward. Period.”
Colleen Athens, former engineer at GE Aviation
In engineering school, Colleen says they teach you to be thoughtful before taking any big step and understanding something fully to avoid making mistakes. But Colleen says she worked her way into business leadership roles by taking risks and eventually became vice president and general manager of Supply Chain at GE Aviation.
Colleen’s risk taking quote: “I knew it wasn’t natural for me to take risks, so I did two things: I surrounded myself with people who were very good at being way out there so I could reel them in, and they could pull me out. I also studied what it meant to be a strategic leader and how to assess risks. I learned that it’s okay to take a big swing, but you’ve got to have checks and balances in place. You need to measure your progress and make course corrections. If you never take that swing, you won’t go anywhere.”
Gloria Cox, senior partner at Cambridge and former executive vice president of Client Services at Nielsen
Blazing trails—and taking risks—is bred in the bone for Gloria. Her parents were part of that great migration of Black Americans who left the oppression of the South for opportunities in northern cities such as Chicago. But, when it comes to risk, Gloria says that sometimes the “reward” is when you receive constructive feedback.
“Feedback is always a gift,” she says. “And some gifts we love, others not so much. But you have to remember that the person took a risk giving it to you because they cared enough. It’s up to you what you do with the gift. Sometimes you tear it open right away; other times, you might want to store it in the corner until you’re ready to open it. Whatever you do, don’t think that negative feedback is catastrophic. Unpack it and find the learnings.”
Susan Whiting, former vice-chairperson at Nielsen Corporation
If one’s bloodline counts for something, then Susan D. Whiting was destined to make a difference and to take risks associated with making that happen. She was named after a relative on her mother’s side: famed suffragette Susan B. Anthony. “Her story was one of persistence,” says Susan. “When I was faced with something daunting—and probably much less important—I would tell myself, ‘Well, if she could keep doing that, I can keep doing this.’”
Her risk taking quote for anyone struggling during a period of change is to “focus on what you need to do for the people who work for your company or who are your clients. Focus on what you can control, and do a great job.”
Nevin Sant, global vice president for Research, Development and Engineering, Light Industries, at Nalco Water
Nevin’s parents wanted her to become a doctor, but that wasn’t her dream, and she took the risk to follow her passion. Switching career tracks takes courage and a willingness to take risks, but Nevin says she went with her gut. “It wasn’t easy,” she says. “There were lots of tears, but deciding to become a chemist and an engineer was a great opportunity that shaped my life.
Her risk taking advice to anyone facing a big decision is this: “When you take a risk, you’ll be nervous, and you’ll lose some sleep, but identify your end goal, identify the risks and figure out where you need to go. My second piece of advice is to believe in yourself, work hard and do your best. Be all in.”
At Gotara, we’re “all in” with helping STEM+ women navigate risky career decisions to achieve their end goals. Join today (it’s FREE!) and access our advice and nano-mentoring services with top STEM+ leaders.