The greatest challenge for women entrepreneurs is overcoming fear, a fear that is one of the reasons they have trouble scaling their businesses. This was the key message at a panel discussion about social entrepreneurship on Friday at the third annual S.H.E. Summit at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The two-day summit, created and hosted by media entrepreneur Claudia Chan as a women's empowerment event, attracted several hundred attendees and featured over 60 speakers.

The practical impact of this fear, said the panelists, was that women entrepreneurs tend to lag their male counterparts in fundraising because they fear the process of asking for money.

"Every single person has it within themselves to take a risk and lift up their own life," said panelist Monica Mehta, investor and author of The Entrepreneurial Instinct. "If we teach people to take risks, they will take risks."

Of course, the lag in scaling isn't all attributable to women's fear of the fundraising process--there's considerable evidence that they face a stacked deck. A recent MIT study found that when identical business-plan videos were narrated by either male or female voices, respondents chose the plans presented by males 68 percent of the time. The same study found that in pitch competitions, men were 60 percent more likely than women to succeed, all other things being equal. Gender explained 42 percent of the bias, the researchers found.

Mehta was joined by Caroline Ghosn, co-founder Levo League, a networking site for young career women, Maxine Bedat, founder, an online retailer of sustainable fashion, and Lara Galinsky, author and senior vice president of Echoing Green, which provides startup funding to socially conscious ventures.

Galinsky encouraged the attendees to view fear as a rallying cry.

"Fear means go," said Galinsky. "It's a temperature gauge and you should pay attention to it. Move to it, not away from it. It's something that will stretch you."

The panelists also offered inspiration--relevant for entrepreneurs regardless of gender--for combatting the fear of fundraising:

  • Make sure your credit score is in top shape before attempting fundraising. Too many women, said the panelists, lag in financial literacy and handicap themselves in the fundraising process.
  • Take action when your brain says stop. "Maintain action," says Mehta, "when your knee jerk reaction to something is to think, and not do."
  • Identify and rely on supportive anchors in your life. "Some will be a person, a passion, your community, cheerleaders, or money," says Mehta.