A recent difficult decision I have made involves work and family and trying to balance the two. As a public speaker, I was asked to attend a fundraiser and speak at it for the closing ceremony, which I was absolutely interested in doing. However, the dates that were decided fall on my five-year wedding anniversary and my son’s second birthday (they are one right after the other). As someone who is growing her public speaking career, it is important that I am available for as many opportunities as possible and that I get my voice heard. As a wife and mother, my family’s life events also hold high importance to me and considering missing them is painful.
My options included going to the event and celebrating my family’s milestones on alternative days or turning down the event and being at home for these milestones on their respective days. Weber and Johnson (2009) discuss how characteristic of the decision maker can affect how they go about making their decision, noting such characteristics as gender, age, cognitive traits/style, age, personality, and health. In discussing gender, they note that women can be more risk-averse and they perceive decisions to be higher risk when they lead to more emotional discomfort (Weber & Johnson, 2009). Weber and Johnson (2009) also note that women’s risk aversion is not biological but instead comes from a place of lower social standing in society, and the belief of perceived risk being larger in all areas except for social risk.
As a career focused woman and working mother, I am constantly trying to balance this belief of risk versus reward with decisions that affect my family, and I often find that how I perceive the potential consequences are quite different than how my husband does when we discuss options.
Weber and Johnson (2009) further discuss that when making decisions, elements that affect our decisions are the information we have (including internal and external information and information that we must seek), the evaluation of this information through cognitive and affective processes, and our internal state including beliefs, values, goals, and prior experiences (p. 77). Not only would my husband’s internal state be different from mine, but how he evaluates the information provided will also be different, influenced by his gender, upbringing, and so on.
As decision making continues to be studied, researchers are becoming more interested in the process of decision making. This has resulted in a better understanding of what can impede decision making. Two common impediments to decision making include heuristics and cognitive biases (Cherry, 2020).
Heuristics are judgements based on previously garnered information that allow for quick decisions to be made (Cherry, 2020). Two types of heuristics are representative heuristics (judging the likelihood of an outcome based on a prototype we already have of that outcome) and availability heuristic (judging the likelihood of an event based on how quickly you can pull up other, similar events) (Cherry, 2020).
Secondly, cognitive biases can distort decision making (Cherry, 2021). Cognitive biases come in many forms and they are a result of limited attention plus heuristics, or mental shortcuts, and their purpose is to help speed along decision making (Cherry, 2021). Though biases influence decision making, it does not only result in negative influence. Most importantly, one must be well informed about potential biases and their influence over thoughts and decisions.
In my situation, I have biases involving both women in the workplace and the negative effect of them taking time for their family, as well as the overrepresentation of women sacrificing for families. To make my decision, I had to sift through the heuristics, cognitive biases and distortions, and try to determine which choice held the best reward for the risk.
Cherry, K. (2020). Problems in Decision Making. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/problems-in-decision-making-2795486.
Cherry, K. (2021). List of Common Cognitive Biases. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/cognitive-biases-distort-thinking-2794763.
Weber, E. U., & Johnson, E. J. (2009). Mindful judgment and decision making. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 53–85