Why Women Should Brag More

I used to think of myself as a confident person. Then, a male friend held a mirror up to my life and I realized that I’d been hiding my startup from the world for two years.

Dove launched their “real beauty” campaign based on research showing that only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Dove’s most recent ad showed women underestimating their own beauty to a forensic artist with a sketch of how they perceive themselves next to a sketch of how others perceive them. The ad struck a chord with women worldwide as we realized that many of us are in that 96%.

When a like-minded male friend received $50,000 for a startup idea simply by telling a few wealthy individuals about it, I had a Dove moment. It was as if someone had drawn a picture of all the self-doubt and fear I had around my startup of two years and placed it squarely next to a confident male version of me who was telling the world about how incredible his two-month old startup idea was.

You know the best way not to get your startup funded? Don’t tell anyone it exists.

So here’s another 4% that’s worth building a campaign around. According to the Stanford Clayman Institute, women only receive 4.2% of venture capital (VC) funding. This is despite the fact that women are graduating from MBA programs at higher rates than men and the number of businesses owned by women has increased to the point where we make up roughly a third of all entrepreneurial activity.

To put in another way, women are starting companies at a rate 1.5x times higher than the national average but male-owned businesses receive 23x more VC funding.

There are a couple theories explaining why. One is that that venture capital firms look less favorably upon women. A study from the Clayman Institute showed that women with non-technical degrees are viewed less favorably than men with the same profiles. In other words, VCs have confidence in a man with a business background leading a technical company, but not in a woman with a comparable profile.

Not only is this sexist, it’s a bad investment strategy. According to a recent analysis, venture capital firms that invest in women-owned businesses outperform those that don’t.

Hopefully as more VCs wake up to benefits of backing women-owned businesses that 4% of funding that currently goes to women ventures will begin to rise. But as easy tempting as it is, I don’t think we can write off the 4% as being solely the fault of male-dominated venture capital firms.

As anyone who works in Silicon Valley will tell you, there are simply fewer women founders pitching VCs than men. I think this is an indication of a broader trend: women are less confident in their ideas and pitch them less.

The so-called “confidence gap” in perceived business acumen has been illustrated in a number of reports. Most recently, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor showed that less than 50% of women believe they are capable of starting and running a business, versus 62% of men.

If we want to revitalize our economy and put America on the path to success, we need more women entrepreneurs to believe in themselves. Women need to look into the mirror and see a beautiful, confident woman perfectly capable of starting a billion-dollar business staring back at them.

And so today I’m taking my own advice. I’m launching a Kuli Kuli Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 and make my dream of improving global nutrition through moringa snack bars into a reality. This dream was inspired by my service in the Peace Corps where I first began working with moringa, one of the most nutrient-dense plants in the world, to improve nutrition in Niger, West Africa.

Just in the past few months since I’ve started standing speaking up and telling people about Kuli Kuli, I’ve had many people reach out to volunteer their time and have even won some exciting recognition from prestigious organizations like Ashoka as an emerging innovator.

I’m leaning in and I hope you will too. As Sheryl Sanberg’s favorite poster at Facebook FB -0.18% says “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?”

This article was posted on Forbes, 5/8/13