Are you a female giver who gets taken for granted? Set boundaries

by | May 20, 2023 | Blog | 2 comments

For the past decade, I’ve intentionally focused on being a giver. After reading Adam Grant’s first book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, published in 2013 and then taking his Give and Take Assessment, I figured it made sense to lean into my natural tendencies.

Grant’s extensive research for his book reinforced my decision. Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, found that giving, especially if you’re thoughtful about how you do it, boosts your:

  • Achievement. By working to bring out the best in others, you also make solid contributions.
  • Creativity. When you connect with people of varied backgrounds and interests, you improve the quality of your ideas.
  • Happiness. Being interested in others leads to a stronger sense of purpose, deeper learning, and richer relationships and this degree of caring increases your satisfaction.

In terms of giving, Grant said he believes we all have the same “muscle.” It’s just that givers are willing to exercise it more.

Yet being a giver is not always ideal-–especially for women. Women givers are often unnoticed, unrecognized, unrewarded for their generosity. Grant also found that women statistically have more creative ideas, but face challenges expressing them. The reasons include the women not feeling psychologically safe, speaking out but not being heard, or being dismissed when they do speak.

Grant didn’t cover these major differences between women and men in his 2014 book. As he explained at his 2017 WorkHuman keynote, Sheryl Sandberg, then the Facebook COO, challenged him about his research results. She wondered if he was drilling down into his prolific and ground-breaking research on organizational issues to analyze any significant differences in women’s responses. He not only listened to her concerns, but also reexamined his data and found some discrepancies, which he shared with the WorkHuman crowd and also wrote about.

Now in recognition of his first book’s 10th birthday, Grant acknowledged in a recent article that if he could rethink and rewrite the book today, he’d add five chapters, including specifically addressing the double bind of generosity for women, which is baked into society.

As Grant explained in this same article, psychologists continue to find that society tends to stereotype men as “ambitious” and women as “caring.” This results in more people asking women for help. And when that happens, women are less likely to get credit for helping because they’re doing what we expect them to do.

Yes!!! This rings true to me. I enjoy exercising my “giving muscles,” but I get annoyed when it feels as if others are taking me in unexpected directions that stretch me to such a degree that I get bent out of shape. I feel both disrespected and taken advantage of.

Grant’s rule of thumb is that he hardly ever says no to a “five-minute favor,” something that will help someone out, such as an introduction or a suggestion. From his perspective these requests cost him very little relative to their positive impact on the individuals.

However, I’m not Grant. I’ve noticed over the years that I often get requests from individuals who want “free labor” for doing tasks viewed unpleasant, beneath their status, or necessary but not highly valued. And fulfilling these requests is seldom rewarding.

For example, with my background in nonprofit governance, I frequently field calls from individuals with intricate questions about their organization’s bylaws, meeting procedures or whatever. These requests can be involved, requiring research and often a detailed written response from me. Sometimes I barely get a thank you for my effort.

Then, there’s the friend from California who visited Charleston for the first time this spring. Without me realizing it, she enlisted me as her de facto travel agent, suggesting hotels and restaurants, including where we should meet for dinner. Before she arrived in town, she had vetoed my first two restaurant choices. Then during dinner, she told me that she had found fault with all of my hotel recommendations for various reasons.

Well, I’ve never aspired to be a travel agent. Nor do I want to give to those who enjoy taking.

What to do next? Continue to lean into my values and set better boundaries, which I’m trusting I can master within the next decade. I’m pleased to report that I’ve already received some tips for setting boundaries, thanks to my blog editor. Jennifer took the initiative to share several practical suggestions while proofreading this blog.

Jennifer also gave me some sage advice: “Be at peace with whatever uncomfortable choice you make about giving or not giving. Tolerate any discomfort as being part of the best choice you made in an imperfect world. And give yourself permission to change your mind, make exceptions, and make mistakes.”

Thank you for exercising your giving muscle, Jennifer!


  1. Cheryl Sivan

    Great observations! Am passing this on to several clients who are struggling with this currently. I would add one more thought……learning is not the same as making a mistake. If you didn’t know something before, that’s not a mistake but is learning.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Cheryl. Definitely agree with your thought about learning, which I’ll share with Jennifer. For me, I’m learning to take more time to reflect. That’s been especially helpful in me figuring out how I can use my values to guide me in setting and keeping boundaries.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *