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

Girls may fear money, but powerful women don't

April 22, 2011: 3:35 PM ET

by Patricia Sellers

On Monday we asked, "Are girls afraid of money?"

America (and beyond) voted and...I don't know what to conclude except I know that the question stirred the pot.

In the heated debate that ensued, I particularly appreciated the viewpoint of Matt in Springfield, VA, who said he wasn't surprised by the results of the experiment in which five $20 bills were placed randomly on classroom desks, and female college students didn't sit near any of them.

Mike's comment: "Women are conditioned by society to not show aggression...Women, in general, are conditioned to be consensus seekers...Men, OTOH, are conditioned to more or less ignore consensus and go with the leader's choice or the more objectively correct choice...

When decisions need to be made quickly, the male mode seems to me to be the better choice. There simply isn't time to ensure a consensus and get everybody feeling good about the decision. When it comes to people's centric decisions, the female mode appears better to me. I would imagine female dominated companies don't have as much turnover due to employees frustrated because they don't think they're opinions are listened to."

I don't know about that. (Do you?) But Mike's comment rings true--and reminds me of a quote from former Xerox (XRX) CEO Anne Mulcahy about her own rise to leadership: "I used to define power as influence -- that you gotta get everyone's vote. So it doesn't feel like power. It feels like consensus," said Mulcahy, who now serves on the boards of Target (TGT) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). "I've learned that a decision needs to be made. A call needs to be made...I'm still learning."

Clearly, for women more than for men, leadership is a leap. So is comfort with money -- as American Express (AXP) OPEN President Susan Sobbott noted yesterday in "How to get women to love money."

BTW, I noticed in the papers this morning loads of news about Most Powerful Women delivering big numbers. DuPont (DD) CEO Ellen Kullman beat earnings expectations for a ninth straight quarter. Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who rose from intern to chief under Mulcahy, reported hefty increases in sales and profits.

As for me, well, I'm a wimp at negotiating my own pay, but I'm trying to get comfortable with money.

When my 90-year-old dad emailed me to ask how I would behave in that room with the $20 bills, I replied to him:

"I think I would have sat at one of the desks with the $20...and picked it up and raised my hand and asked the teacher, 'What is this and who does it belong to?'...Classic Aries only child. Leader, not follower. ;-)"

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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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The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

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