How to get women to love money

April 21, 2011, 6:49 PM UTC

The debate rages on about women and money. After I published “Are women afraid of money?”–which stirred up this week’s far-flung opinionated commentary–Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, emailed me her thoughts. Her note was so insightful that I asked her if I could run it as a Guest Post.

Credit: Ed Haas

Sobbott knows entrepreneurs. At American Express since 1990, she has headed OPEN, the company’s small-business card unit for seven years. Two years ago, OPEN partnered with Fortune to create Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, a program that each year selects 10 of the most innovative female entrepreneurs in the U.S. and brings them to the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. There, they share ideas with the world’s foremost women leaders and our honorary male participant who believes passionately in entrepreneurship: Warren Buffett . – Patricia Sellers

Guest Post by Susan Sobbott, President, American Express OPEN

When you speak to women about their businesses, they start with their inspiration, their mission, their client relationships, their personal journey as entrepreneurs.

After a few probing questions, typically, they get to the business model and how they make money.

Male business owners have the order a bit different.

So how does this translate? This isn’t true for all women, but more women than men are “intimidated by the numbers,” they say. “I’m just not a numbers person…”

Usually, that is so far from the truth.

The intimidation is a psychological barrier. Asking for financing comes less naturally for a woman. She feels that she should do it on her own.

Size of business also matters less. And size (pardon the stereotyping here) absolutely matters most to men.

The mission of the business is what drives women who start them. The size of the profit drives their male counterparts.

I noticed this recently as I was speaking to a married couple who own a retail business. The husband shares details about  inventory turns while his wife talks about the specialty merchandise she carries for the unique needs of her customers.

She’s focused on the relationships; he’s focused on moving the goods.

Men also tend to have a hard and fast goal in mind. They want to get to $X in revenues or Y locations. The goal allows them to plan their way to it.

Women entrepreneurs tend to operate with a more general goal to grow their business. Their thinking then goes to the plan: How many customers?…What suppliers, margins, cash flow will get them there?

The upshot of all this: Women start businesses at 1.5 times the national rate. And women are driving the growth of our smaller business–to a point. That is, women-owned firms have higher growth rates than male-owned firms, but only up to the 100-employee and $1 million mark.

Unfortunately, only 3% of all women-owned firms have revenues of $1 million or more. This compares to 6% of all male-owned firms.

What’s the best thing that women who have large and successful businesses can do? Show other women that knowing the numbers is critical and that making money is a noble outcome of owning a business.

And the best way to break woman’s psychological barriers about money? Teach girls at a young age that they shouldn’t shy away from the numbers–and especially from the money.