How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Are girls afraid of money? The answer is...

April 19, 2011: 12:24 PM ET

by Patricia Sellers

Monday's Postcard--detailing an experiment in which female undergrads revealed themselves to be practically allergic to $20 bills placed randomly in a classroom--drew a flood of comments and spirited debate about women and money.

Men, for the most part, said women do fear money. "Why the fear?" asked a Miami reader, Michael D. " "IMHO, it is learned behavior. Girls are bought things, boys are given opportunities to own them."

Other male readers got in their digs: "Next time you should try with a Louis Vuitton bag...wanna see if they act so cool," posted David in London.

Meanwhile, many female readers pleaded that women simply treat cold hard cash with due respect. "Why insist that women behave like men in order to succeed?" wrote Jennifer in Bixby, OK. " Women-run businesses thrive because women value relationship over money."

One of the Georgetown University students who was part of the $20 bill experiment chimed in. "I do not think women fear money," commented Dena in Washington, D.C. "Rather, we feel that money is something that must be earned...Money is a part of success, money in itself, however, is not success."

OK, but is it productive for women in business--who compete everyday with men--to NOT take money that is literally on the table?

I had lunch with yesterday with Rachel Sklar, whose career spans journalism (ex-Huffington Post and Mediate), activism (Change the Ratio) and a social-media startup, Hashable. "Wow this is amazing," Sklar emailed me, referring to yesterday's Postcard. "It reminds me of an experience I had while on the boat at Summit at Sea--a VC was gambling in the casino and flipped me a $500 chip, offering to let me play it and we'd split the results. I immediately said, 'Nope. The results go to charity.' We won $1500. I don't regret it, of course, but I do recognize that the impulse might not be for everyone."

Dr. Patty Ann Tublin is a clinical psychologist who is studying women and money with Susan Wilson, the author of yesterday's Guest Post. Tublin is troubled by the results of the $20 bill experiment: "I would have thought the dysfunctional female attitude towards money was a generational issue--one which had all but disappeared with today's best and brightest young female minds. Apparently not. Is it the female mindset, socio-cultural influences and/or the 'good girl' syndrome influencing women's fears about creating, and keeping wealth? Or is there a genetic correlation (heaven forbid) where money is associated with male qualities such as aggression vs. nurture, etc.?"

Tublin adds: "Professional women I have worked with have literally told me they are 'afraid' to ask their boss for more money because they did not want to be viewed as too greedy, too aggressive, too selfish, not a team player and quite frankly, 'like the men.'"

Stay tuned to Postcards this week for a followup Guest Post from Susan Sobbott, the president of American Express (AXP) OPEN, which serves small-business customers.

As for Wilson, who began this debate with her experiment and Guest Post, she's thrilled with the passion she stirred up--and also distressed: "How are women's entrepreneurship programs going to get women building large-scale companies and creating global change when our best and brightest women here in the U.S. can't even sit next to $20 FREE dollars? Much less say they want it?"

Wilson's advice to young women who want to succeed in business and beyond: "Money is just a currency and only has the power you give it."

To see the full slate of comments generated by yesterday's Postcard, go to "Are girls afraid of money?"

And see my follow-up post, "A tech entrepreneur's take on women and money."

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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