Friday, 24 July 2015

Are Women The Unsung Resilience Heroes?

According to most research, resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. It is undoubtedly of huge importance to individuals and businesses at a times when change and instability are the norm and leaders are expected to successfully ride the next wave and turn around situations.

What interests me more specifically is: why is it that some people bounce back from the most difficult situations and others cannot? Can resilience actually be learnt? Furthermore, as women, do we actually find it easier to be resilient? The latter question probably matters to me the most and it will be also discussed at a a forthcoming event in London during World Travel Market 2015 (November 3).

I have to admit that so far I have no strong research backed up answer to this - although the panel discussion will probably provide some. But anecdotal evidence and gut feelings tell me that women are possibly just or even more likely to be resilient as men and furthermore, they are likely to transfer this resilience to their business, particularly in the case of women entrepreneurs. So why am I feeling this way?

Well, let's think about this. Women who start their own business often have had to make lifestyle choices:
1 - Set up a business in order to juggle young family/senior care and work
2 - Set up a business in order to do things differently or better that they could do in corporate life.

This means that these women have had to bounce back from corporate disappointments, such as not being able to achieve what their were hoping to in their corporate career and/or not being able to get the flexibility required to look after a family whilst working.  They have had to take a long hard look at their situation, remain pragmatic, yet practical and decide to move on - thinking about alternatives, reinventing themselves, ultimately innovating.

Secondly, there is also a huge show of resilience in setting up and growing a brand new business, particularly in getting access (or NOT as it is mostly the case) to funding and finding ways to do it anyway. That is also true for men, absolutely. However - and this is backed by research - in many countries women do not get access to loans unless they have a men guaranteeing for them. Even in western societies,  I was reading today that only 1 in 6 venture capitals firms have women at the helm, so funding is generally male-biased.  Still, research shows that women led businesses are the fastest growing sector in the global economy.

So all in all I feel that my gut feelings can be reasonably justified. The next question is, whether we are resilient or would like to be more resilient, is this a skill we can learn?

In dissecting resilience, we find attributes such as flexibility, innovation, thinking on your feet, being creative. It is not so much being optimist and hoping that everything will end up well. On the contrary, it is about taking a long, hard look at reality and saying to one self 'what can I do to prepare for the worst case scenario?' As a matter of fact, 'What can I do to prepare for scenario A, B, C,D ?' So there is a great link between resilience and preparation, and that is a skill can be thought through and learnt in advance.  Naturally though, not every event can be foreseen, so however much planning one can do there will always be unforeseen events one needs to respond to. So what then? I guess that if practice makes perfect, having had enough practice in scenario planning will enable us to be a lot more ready for sudden change. Furthermore, some will see change as an opportunity to create something that wasn't there or  adapt that 'something ' - for example a business - to fit in with change. I can think of many situations where women have shown an ability to master this, such as having a baby or leaving a company after a redundancy round.

So in summary, I feel quite strongly that women have an inherent resilient quality they can use in their personal and business life. I also feel that this quality is a mix of nature and nurture and that we can all learn to be more resilient by honing in a few key skills. But what is your opinion and have you got any examples to support (or contrast) my hypothesis?

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

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