Being Generous Drives Business Success (Unless You’re a Woman)

Go-givers are supposed to come out ahead.Over the years, books like Adam Grant’s Give and Take have popularized the idea that you can get ahead in business by putting other people first. 

According to this wisdom, rather than looking out for Number One all the time, success-seekers should give their time and attention to others while expecting nothing in return. This is considered one of the greatest open secrets of effective networking

The problem is, women have been doing that for centuries without getting ahead.

Some Go-Givers Don’t Get Much Back

I really like the concept of being, in the words of Bob Burg and John David Mann, a “go-giver.” I just don’t think it works particularly well in business … unless you’re a man.

When a businessman is generous with his time, attention, or contacts, he’s considered an exceptional guy. He’s astute, forward-thinking, a wizard at business relationships. He gets ahead because he stands out.

When a businesswoman does the same thing, she’s just doing what women do, which is to help others and make their needs a priority. Her career will not take off because she’s generous. On the contrary, her time and energy are likely to be taken for granted. 

If a businesswoman does someone a favor, it doesn’t necessarily attract notice, let alone reciprocation. In some sense, it’s as if she “owes” other people her time and attention

Did a female entrepreneur make time to talk to you about something she’s an expert at?

Of course she did.

But if a male entrepreneur donates HIS time to help you, well. You might feel you owe him a favor.

All to say, if you’re a woman in business, don’t expect following the principles in Adam Grant’s (admittedly excellent) book to rocket you to success.

If you’re a man, though, you’ll see the potential as you read through the (mostly male) case studies.

Women and Boundaries

We women fare better in business when we place the proper value — and boundaries — on our time.

I once got an email from someone who wanted me to read a manuscript of their book, but refused to send me a hard copy. If I didn’t want to sit in front of my computer reading the whole thing, I would have had to print out the book-length manuscript myself. That is, expend my own time and resources to do a stranger a favor. 

I personally benefited from the generosity of a couple of authors (both male) who graciously agreed to read my first manuscript. So I was happy to pay it forward and do the same for someone else. But this person’s unwillingness to value my time meant that I never got the opportunity.

I drew the line at printing the manuscript, and its author couldn’t be bothered to print it for me. So I didn’t read it.

We women must set boundaries around our time and energy. If we don’t, we can’t expect others to treat those as the precious resources they are.

While men in business may need to learn to give more, women need to learn to assert and protect our value.

What do you think? Is generosity gendered? Or can women get ahead in business just as easily as men by giving to others? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

3 thoughts on “Being Generous Drives Business Success (Unless You’re a Woman)”

  1. Yes, I’ve noticed this too and felt confused about it. Even at my Federal job, my efforts for “the team” seem little regarded by the team. A few bosses appreciate them but they have been trained to do so. I will remember this as I’m starting a small business in the next year. I’m glad you brought this up. I think you are correct at least in some places. I’d be interested in knowing if there are areas of the country where women’s generosity IS regocnizwd as well as men’s. Here in Austin, Tx what you say is true.

    • Thanks for your input, Connie. And best of luck with your business next year. If you want to come back and write a guest post about interpersonal skills for businesswomen, please drop me a line.


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