Do Females Encourage More Generosity in Males?

Adam Grant has done it again.

He wrote an excellent article in yesterday’s New York Times about the positive correlation between the amount of money a man donates and how many female relatives he has. Bill Gates was used as the shining example of someone whose mother and wife “were major catalysts for his philanthropic surge.” (I sort of wish Grant had used other examples of your average Joe trying to make a difference and spurred upon by his female relatives. I mean, Bill Gates is always used as an example of *something*…)

Grant also, oh so briefly but so importantly, touched upon how there are not enough women in leadership positions and he wondered, “Is it possible that when women join top management teams, they encourage male colleagues to treat employees more generously and to share knowledge more freely?”

Aside: I have just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which talks more about women’s decision-making processes with respect to moving up the career ladder (which she actually prefers to call a jungle gym). I wish I had more time to write a thorough book review about this, because there were some really interesting points she raises which struck a chord in me about my own career decision-making process. When Grant wrote about how companies are better off when they have more women in top management roles, it reminded me of something Sandberg touched upon: the most successful women in top leadership roles have a supportive partner behind them.

I’m tickled by Grant’s comment: “It might also be that boys feel the impulse – by nature and nurture – to protect their sisters.” He was referring to social scientists’ thinking that empathetic and caring behaviors of sisters rub off on their brothers. It makes me think of my three older brothers who ruthlessly teased me and yet even now, each in his own way, shows an incredible protective and caring instinct for me. I know they will do anything for me. I wonder if the three of them are more generous in their giving practices, having such a kind, caring, and empathetic sister like me?!

The ending to Grant’s article is just so perfect: “It is often said that behind every great man stands a great woman. In light of the profound influence that women can have on men’s generosity, it might be more accurate to say that in front of every great man walks a great woman. If we’re wise, we’ll follow her lead.” I think we need more men talking like this, in support of women.

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