October 26, 2020

Taking chances is key to advancing your career, but women tend to be more risk-averse. Heres how to take the right risks, according to a female business strategy expert.

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  • Yvette Gilmore is a business strategy expert and the senior vice president of servicing product strategy at ServiceLink, a mortgage solutions company.
  • As she climbed the corporate ladder, she says she was often faced with tough career decisions, like changing industries or moving to a different state.
  • Gilmore explains that having a strong support system, trusting her intuition, and knowing her superpowers were key to help her navigate those decisions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

From media mogul Oprah Winfrey, to IBM chairman Ginni Rometty, to General Motors CEO Mary Barra, it’s clear women have made progress over the years on some executive fronts. Still, we have a long way to go to get more businesswomen to take the career risks needed to ascend to managerial, directorial, and C-suite roles. 

COVID-19’s ongoing disruption has offered business professionals a huge opportunity to show their creative problem-solving skills. This moment should be one for women from all backgrounds to lead the charge equally with their male counterparts. But let’s face it, women and especially women of color have had to work harder and smarter to get ahead, and still do. 

As a woman, a wife, and a mother, I’ve been able to navigate a career in the mortgage industry from loss mitigation services, to investor, to a service provider, climbing the corporate ladder at nearly every juncture. These moves have taken me from my home state of California to Texas and to Virginia, and the new jobs I’ve been offered typically entailed more risk than comfort. 

With that in mind, I’m proud of the risks I’ve taken, and want to encourage all women to take more chances in advancing their careers. Here are my top three tips for taking the right risks. 

1. Know your superpower

Women need to believe more not only in what they’ve already done, but what they can do in the future. Confidence and self-promotion appears to be a problem for many women. While studies have shown that women are more likely to be hired than men if we apply for jobs, we are more risk-averse: Women only apply for jobs they feel 100% qualified for, while men only need to believe they are 60% qualified. 

When it comes to career risks, women need to harness their fears to overcome them. Even though I graduated with a broadcast journalism degree, I decided to pivot soon thereafter to find a work-life balance that would be more congruent for a family. Before I knew it, I was offered a position in the male-dominated mortgage industry, which I had no experience in. While I would like to think I took the opportunity and never looked back, the truth is we all have doubts along our professional journeys. 

What I’ve learned is that you need to understand that your special talents transcend “roles.” Your talents are not just portable — they are superpowers. 

So ask yourself: What is it about you that solves problems just before the team starts giving up? What is it about you that identifies problems before your teammates even know that they  exist? What is it about you that makes old ideas new and brings new ideas to life?

Everyone has that special talent, that superpower. If you don’t know what your superpower is, you will likely act risk-averse until you are more self-actualized. Get to know what that is about you. Dig in. Figure it out. Ask others if you need to. The effort will be worth it. 

2. Trust your intuition

It’s never too late for women to start taking risks. But reality plays out differently. Consider that 45% of women with less than five years of experience are open to taking big risks to further their career, while only 37% with 15-plus years of experience state the same.

That’s the wrong mindset. Women are never too old to take a career risk. Even if people in your network tell you they aren’t sure if you should take a chance, if you know that in your heart that you can do the job, you should go for it. If you have had the well-reasoned arguments with yourself about what’s best for you with timing, location, and other factors, then there’s something huge you need to do — trust yourself. Trust your intuition. 

For instance, when I was offered a job in Virginia, it was to work for an investor — something I had never done before, in a place where my husband and I didn’t know anyone. Plenty of hand-wringing took place, and I considered walking away. But something in my gut told me to do it because the opportunity to work for an investor, while a totally new experience for me, would pay dividends in the future. And it did. 

3. Utilize your support system

Before that move, I ‘d already held several different positions during my career across different cities and states. When considering making one of these moves, I sometimes felt like we’d be only doing it for me. My husband usually responded, “Then, we should do it.” 

Not everyone is going to have a rock like that as a partner, I get it. You can often find similar support from other loved ones and friends. In my career journey I’ve also confided in my personal and professional friends about such professional changes.

It’s important to vocalize to your network what kind of support you’re looking for. Your support system needs to know what you need in order to help you take the risk. My support system has always had my back, and I couldn’t have done it alone. Ask the people you trust — colleagues, peers, BFFs — for their take on your situation.

While I’ve had a career that’s been incredibly fulfilling thanks to risk-taking, I also understand taking chances and comfort are diametrically opposed ideas. To achieve the professional comfort women want, we need to embrace risk. That’s all there is to it. To get there, we need to lean into our superpowers, our intuition, and our support system. 

We need to harness whatever fear we have and make it work for us. As my father used to say:

“Baby don’t worry about the mule going blind — just load the cart.”

Yvette Gilmore is the senior vice president of servicing product strategy at mortgage solutions company ServiceLink. Over a career spanning two decades, Yvette has received housing and finance industry awards while leading Fortune 500 financial service organizations. At ServiceLink, she is responsible for developing products and services, such as her company’s EXOS One Marketplace, that support strategic servicer client initiatives.