Female Founders Need to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Being an entrepreneur is hard enough for women without us throwing in those extra self-inflicted hurdles along the way.
Female Founders Need to Stop Self-Sabotaging
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CEO of Female Founders Alliance
7 min read
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All entrepreneurs face a steep, arduous, punishing path to success, one that is much more likely to end in a ditch than in the promised land. The majority of businesses flat-out fail, and venture-scale businesses, which are higher risk and higher velocity, fail even faster.

Related: How Coaching Can Help Women Get Ahead in the Tech Industry

But, what is already a moonshot for all founders is exponentially harder for women. Female founded companies receive only 2 percent of venture capital, and on average raise half as much money as all-male teams do. And even though 13 percent of all founders are women, we hold just 6 percent of the equity. The odds of raising significant venture capital for a female founder are worse than the odds of winning an Oscar.

With a gender gap that big, it's disingenuous to think there's a single cause or a single solution. This problem is big and gnarly. And there are absolutely structural disadvantages that women face at every step of our journey -- disadvantages that are magnified for women with intersectional identities. All women have it bad. Some women have it much, much worse.

That said, times are changing. Data is getting published that reveals the scale of the problem. Stories are getting told that demonstrate what it's like in the trenches. Investors are raising funds and paying attention to this market inefficiency. Women's communities are flourishing, new programs are getting built and new solutions are abound.

I'm one of the people building those solutions. In 2017, in the throes of trying -- and failing! -- to raise venture capital for my ed tech startup, I started an online community to find and build allyship with other women who were on the same journey. That's how the Female Founders Alliance was born -- a grassroots network of women dedicated to helping each other succeed.

Related: 3 Ways Women Can Turn Fear of Failure Into Fearless Action

That's why, in my work, I've had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with female founders about what their journey is like. And I've learned a dark secret that too many of us have in common: Even when opportunities abound, female founders are prone to self-sabotage. And here I thought it was just me!

Confidence issues are real among women. According to a Cornell University study, women underestimate their abilities more than men. We don't feel as ready for or deserving of promotions, and we doubt our abilities much more than men.

It's time for an intervention. This entrepreneurial path is hard enough for women without us throwing in those extra self-inflicted hurdles along the way. In that spirit, here are three forms of self-sabotage that come up in my conversations with female founders over and over again -- all of which I have engaged in myself. Consider this one giant permission slip to stop self-sabotaging, and start embracing your path to success.

1. "My needs come last."

Running a startup puts demands on our time like we've never experienced before. When we're working on something that's important to us, we let ourselves become far less important. We put ourselves last. We become unhealthy. We stop sleeping. We don't hydrate. We skip exercising. We postpone doctor's visits. Incidentally, this is also a frequent occurrence among new moms. So if you, like me, have the double whammy of having children and a startup, consider yourself doubly warned.

I am the worst offender. It took me three months with a toothache to finally get myself to a dentist this year.

But, how can we expect to be our best and pitch our best when we're sick and sleep deprived? We can't. We have to remember to put our oxygen mask on first, so that we can take care of the important things around us.

Related: 'We Had a Feeling of Failure And Guilt' Says This Founder Who Shut Down Her Company and Relaunched With the Help of Her Mentor

2. "I'm not ready."

Earlier this year we held an accelerator for female founded companies. During the application cycle, I can't tell you how many times we heard from women who thought they or their companies "weren't ready to apply". And sure, some were right -- maybe their company was still just an idea or they didn't have anyone working with them. But, most were wrong. They were absolutely ready. They just didn't feel that way.

Our accelerator was designed to equip women with the skills and connections needed to secure venture financing. It wasn't designed for women who had pitch-perfect businesses already! If we don't take chances even when we don't feel 100 percent ready, we'll never be in a position to grow as leaders and scale our business.

This doesn't just happen with accelerator applications: It's a recurring theme at every point in a startup's life cycle. There's a very good chance that you will never feel ready to take the next step, to meet the investor, to get on the stage or to talk to a customer. But, that is just a feeling, it's oftentimes not a reflection of reality. You can't let that feeling stop you. Because if you wait until you feel ready, I'll bet you anything that you waited too long.

Related: Here's Why Women Take Less Vacation Time Than Men -- and What to Do About It

3. "I'm not good enough."

In startups, if you go by what you hear on panels, the media and most founders' social feeds, you may start to believe that everyone is "crushing it." Everyone, that is, but you. For female founders, this hits harder. It builds cognitive dissonance between how we think our peers are doing and how we evaluate our own performance. And the comparison can be nothing short of brutal.

Let me share a secret with you: Actually, no one is crushing it. Every entrepreneur, regardless of gender, has their own uglies. We all struggle, we all screw up, we all embarrass ourselves. It's just that some of us are better at covering it up and moving right along than others.

If you manage to push past that self-doubt, you'll eventually see what the data shows -- that women-led startups are more successful than male-led startups. That means you! According to an analysis by Boston Consulting Group, startups led by women generated 10 percent more in cumulative revenue than male-founded startups over a five-year period.

As entrepreneurs, we're going to get rejected -- a lot, and some even more than others -- but we can't let rejection, fear of failure or lack of confidence hinder our ability to forge ahead. And when something inevitably goes wrong, we can't beat ourselves up. After meeting hundreds of female founders and CEOs, what strikes me about the most successful among us is that they keep their cool and keep executing seamlessly despite every ridiculous hurdle that gets thrown their way. They are the grittiest entrepreneurs on the planet. No wonder data shows female-founded companies perform better -- it's because these women are superheroes.

These women hold a secret, and you can be in on it, too. They know that the game is designed for us to fail, or to succeed but not too much. They know that setbacks are evidence that they're moving forward, rejection is evidence that they had the guts to try, failure is evidence that success is still ahead. None of it means that they're not important, that they're not ready, or that they're not good enough. So, give yourself permission to think big, act big and succeed big, no matter what gets thrown your way.

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