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By: Regina Mayor
According to KPMG’s latest Women’s Leadership Study, seven in ten women (69%) are open to taking small risks to further their career, but far fewer (43%) are open to taking the bigger risks that are often associated with career advancement. Only 43% of women surveyed are confident and comfortable discussing their own accomplishments.
I can’t say I was surprised by these numbers, but they’re a reminder about the importance of empowering women in business.
As a leader at a Big Four accounting firm – it’s been absolutely critical for me to take both big and smart risks, at many stages of my career, in order to rise to the professional level I’m at today.
Forty-five percent of the women surveyed in KPMG’s Women’s Leadership Study say that risk-taking allowed them to gain a whole new set of skills that they otherwise may never have developed. There is no denying this was the case for me. I come from humble beginnings. I was born in Pearl City, Hawaii, and later moved to the macho oil fields and glass towers of Texas. But, perhaps the biggest risk of my life was my decision to overcome early financial hurdles and attend college on the East Coast by taking on the rigors of the military. The Army challenged me both physically and mentally, but it was a risk that came with many rewards.
While in the Army, I attended Airborne School – or “Jump School” – which trained me how to parachute into an operation from an aircraft. I was one of just 15 women in my class of nearly 500 who signed up to jump, and we were sent up for our very first jumps in different teams comprised entirely of men. I jumped first– a risk in more ways than one. After my safe landing and those of the rest of my team – a man who had jumped after me commented: “I knew I couldn’t back out once I saw Mayor do it.”
I later learned that most of the other women had also jumped first. The ultimate reward, I remember thinking. This risk earned me tremendous respect among my Army peers and equipped me with skills that I’ve carried with me throughout my life, like the importance of leading from the front and the impact you can have on your team by making the choice to do so.
Hard work earned me a scholarship from the Army and the opportunity to push myself academically at Cornell and later Harvard, pursuing an internship at the Pentagon with the likes of very senior political figures, and eventually landing a role in professional services in downtown Houston where I have since remained throughout my career. I viewed each barrier along my journey as an opportunity and a ‘risk’ that I would have to push myself through in order to reap the long-term rewards.
Risk comes in many forms. I learned to overcome others’ biases, and I became intrepid in my willingness to try new things and constantly challenge myself. The attributes and skills I honed from all my experiences along my journey enabled me to speak up in even the most intimidating corporate settings. I consistently ‘raised my hand’ – a big risk for a woman in a male-dominated profession – always asking to take on more when I knew I had earned it. I built strong networks across the country – and now in my global role at KPMG – around the world. I leveraged these connections at every stage of my career and made sure to stay close to those who mentored me. Now, based on my journey, I often advise women to build their personal agility and integration skills – all forms of risk – in order to attain success.
It was Ray Bradbury, the creative American author, who so aptly said that “Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” I couldn’t agree more and fully encourage women at all levels and stages of life to envision the longer-term rewards that risk-taking can often have.
So, let’s empower each other to make that jump – or take that risk. I know first-hand that many risks often lead to many great rewards.
Based in Houston, Regina Mayor serves as KPMG’s Global and U.S. Sector Leader for Energy and Natural Resources. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Taylor Ovalle.