(Based on an online talk given to the Royal London Group’s Women’s Network on 16.11.21)

Women have got bad press when it comes to taking risks: they are seen generally as being wary, more cautious, and less adventurous.

Yet, look back and you’ll see many women risk-takers: Boudicca, Elizabeth 1st, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell, Amelia Earhart, Marie Stopes, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa, Ellen MacArthur, Malala Yousafzai, and Greta Thunberg, to name but a few.

Throughout history women have taken risks – after all, some have relationships with men and bear children! That’s pretty risky behaviour. In early societies women strapped on their babies and took to the fields, keeping an eye on friend and foe. Through ‘evolutionary psychology’ we are well able to ‘multi-task’ and are networkers supreme.

What lies behind the notion of women being risk-averse is usually a lack of confidence. Research shows that men can often base their confidence on fewer achievements and ‘big themselves up’, whereas women will tend to put themselves down and minimise their self-worth.

The pandemic has shown the resourcefulness of women, juggling home and work life from the kitchen table. Many are living in the ‘squeezed muddle’ of running between caring for older relatives and looking after children and family, whilst working. It is often a humungous feat.

This takes talent, hard work and yes, risk. We have to be able to be resilient, assess problems and issues, and be effective. We often need to stick our necks out and take risks, despite how we feel.

The biggest block to many women being effective risk-takers is the negative self-talk that can dominate and erode self-confidence. So many women ‘compare and despair’, looking at others and finding themselves wanting. This is an unnecessary and self-sabotaging habit.

Women can also be ‘people pleasers’ and find themselves putting others first, too often. To take risks, we need to be able to put yourselves first and focus on what you want to do. It’s putting the ‘oxygen mask’ on yourself first.

With Christmas and the New Year coming, it’s a moment to think about what challenges lie ahead. Of course, we are all assessing risk all of the time, as we transition out of the pandemic. It’s not over yet, and it is a daily challenge. Shall I go to work? Can I safely go to that event? Are my children OK? Will I infect my older relatives? Am I at risk?

The juggling act continues. But women are well-equipped to multitask and meet a variety of challenges. The pandemic has caused many people to question their next steps, their chosen path, and it is a good moment to take new risks, meet new challenges, and develop new pathways.

Don’t let negative self-talk, anxiety and fear suppress your self-belief. Assess the situation and take some calculated risks – this way you will feel more involved, more alive and achieve more. Value your own achievements, too, and stop comparing and despairing.

After, all, like the ad says, ‘You’re worth it’.

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