A Woman’s Guide to Giving

Is it as effective for us as Adam Grant, Simon Sinek and other generous men suggest it should be?

I watched a video of Simon Sinek talking about his latest book, Leaders Eat Last, yesterday and had to pause it halfway to add the book to my to-buy list. Yay! Being nice, for business success! My favourite!

I’m also reading Give and Take by Adam Grant at the moment, because being nice for business success really is my favourite. It’s a principle and a practice that I really want to believe in and follow.

But there is a little nagging question in the back of my mind.

What if you’re a woman? And every time you give generously to someone you remind them of their mother so they forget to even say thank you?


I haven’t ordered Sinek’s book yet so I don’t know whether he explores whether female leaders should eat first or last or in the middle or firmly-but-not-too-firmly or with-a-smile, but Grant touches on this aspect of the topic (over 8 pages, out of 309).

He describes several studies that look into how well female ‘givers’ (people who give more than they expect to receive in return) do in their careers compared to male givers. There are several factors at stake, including people’s expectations regarding male vs. female behaviours.

Essentially, giving has a lower impact for women, because people expect women to give more and are thus less impressed when they do so.

In addition, women who are givers are susceptible to the ‘doormat effect’, where recipients respond by caring less about you and asking for more from you.

By the time I’d read this far, I felt disappointed. The Utopian vision of being a woman who is generous to everyone and to whom everyone is generous in return may never be reality.

So what to do?

Two things might help here:

  1. It’s important to remember that always giving is not sensible giving
  2. Awareness of a problem helps us handle it better

My first thoughts upon this conundrum are, therefore, as follows.

Give Sensibly

To be a successful giver is to give the right thing to the right person at the right time.

According to Give and Take, a successful giver should always help someone if it takes 5 minutes or less to do so.

But I’d add that it really depends on what is being asked for, and who is asking for it. Give freely if it’s easy and costs you little-to-nothing.

But don’t give if you suspect the asker does not hold you in particularly high regard.

Know Thyself

The urge to give can stem from the desire to be liked.

But remember: People don’t actually like people who give too much.

(It’s a funny thing about humans. You have to be a bit mean* to people occasionally if you want them to respect you and take you seriously.)

So if you want people to like you, think carefully about when and how you help them.

*To be clear, ‘being mean’ here means being not-overly-generous.

Conclusion: Don’t Give

In Give and Take, Grant shares a story from early on in his career in which he goes from doormat to assertive giver and top performer.

Because an assertive giver is a smart negotiator who looks for a win-win situation and helps everyone achieve it.

A win-win situation includes everyone having respect for one another, so if you’re a woman make sure you’ve put that requirement firmly on the table.

After all, if people don’t respect you, they won’t listen to you. And if they won’t listen to you, you can’t help them.

So the best thing a woman can give? Probably a reminder to respect her.