05/17/2012 03:15 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

What's a Woman's True Worth?

Of all of the carefully wrapped presents we gave our moms on Mother's Day last Sunday, how many mothers do you think tore open the pretty-in-pink paper to find their child's investments portfolios inside? Not many, if any at all. But, according to a Wall Street Journal article, this would have been the perfect gift for mom. As published in 'The Intelligent Investor' section entitled, "For Mother's Day, Give Her the Reins of the Portfolio" in 2009, women's risk-adjusted returns consistently beat those of men by an average of about one percentage point annually.

Surprised? Of course you are. But if Stacey Tisdale, a financial expert and broadcast journalist who has reported on business and financial issues for more than 20 years, has anything to say about it, you won't be for long. "Women are born with an innate knowledge about how to handle money," Tisdale says. So how did the mythological view that casts women as less financially literate than men first develop? " "We learn a lot about ourselves when we examine how we deal with money," Tisdale says. "In many cases, you see women putting everyone else's financial needs ahead of their own. We have also been conditioned to cede the big financial decisions to men, even if we are managing the day-to-day finances," she continues, "Women need to repair their relationships with money."

Tisdale, who is the author of The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money, and who provides financial advice on NBC's Today Show and reports for Need To Know, a weekly national broadcast on PBS, has found, in fact, that our 'financial personalities' are the result of conditioning that began to take place from the day we were born. "Girls don't have many female role models making big important financial decisions with the same confidence men have," she says. Additionally, advertising and media messages that stereotype females' financial literacy, or a general lack thereof, is further undermining women's sense of self.

It was while researching her book over a six-year period, in fact, that Tisdale set out to uncover what's really at work in our financial choices. Ironically, answers to those questions led her not to financial experts, as one would expect, but to psychologists, psychiatrists, and even spiritual advisors. "The problem was clear," she says, "When we have financial trouble, we tend to go straight to the numbers, believing that we need to save more, earn more, and invest more." The truth is, however, that numbers actually have very little to do with money, since our relationship with money is more deeply rooted psychologically. "That is why," Tisdale says, "I use money as a tool to repair our self-confidence."

And one of the ways she is doing so is through Winning Play$, a program Tisdale designed to help students develop the psychological, social, and emotional skills to transform conditioned perceptions and behaviors that are preventing them from envisioning and achieving their future financial goals. Created in conjunction with NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott's All Stars Helping Kids Foundation, an organization that aims to help one million high school students in under-served communities develop financial literacy, the pioneering program has already been recognized for its success as the recipient of the U.S. Department of Education's Excellence in Economic Education Award in 2010.

Built upon a foundation to empower our country's youth with an effective model for behavior change that will also build their motivation and self-efficacy, the program is further hoping to expand the national dialogue on financial literacy to include psychological, social and emotional factors. And this could not have come at a more urgent time for women, beset by an economy stagnated by smaller paychecks, high unemployment, and rampant housing foreclosures. In support of Tisdale's work, Gloria Steinem asserts that "women are particularly targeted for unequal pay, high interest loans, credit cards, installment buying and unaffordable mortgages largely because women don't ask for what they're worth, or learn about interest rates and mortgages." Which brings us back full circle to the importance of women understanding and internalizing their true worth, as early in life as possible. "We need to step away from this poverty of understanding that prevents us from owning our knowledge about money," Tisdale says. Steinem concurs, "If Stacey Tisdale had been at my college, I wouldn't have taken a lifetime to learn what Nina Simone sang to us all, 'God bless the child that has her own.'"


Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist and founder of Work Life Matters magazine.