With the recent 30-year anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, we’ve been doing some additional research on one of the causes of that disaster – something called “group think”. Group think is a phenomenon where a group or team of people think or make decisions in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. In essence, this type of practice is usually preferred so that a group can reach a certain pre-defined target, whether it be a deadline or quite simply, just getting along or being cohesive.

In preparation for International Women’s Day March 8th, we have also been reviewing research related to one of their themes, Pledge for Parity. It’s no secret that there continues to be income disparity between men and women. According to Statistics Canada 2011, full time working women still only receive 74% of wages compared to full time working men. So, we began to wonder, is there a link between group think and the lack of income parity between women and men?

pink hand and blue hand with male and female symbols drawn inside of them with an equal sign in between the hands

So, why don’t women value themselves the same as men?
According to the Harvard Business Review Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers, in repeated studies, it’s a matter of socially acceptable behaviour related to negotiating salary. The “social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men.” Although men can do a poor job of negotiating their pay, most published studies show that the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, and very significant for women. It seems that women have a negative intuitive ‘gutt’ feeling about negotiating for higher pay – and they’re right! If they self-advocate for higher pay, the research shows that it presents a socially difficult situation for them — more so than for men.

Why do we still see women paying a higher social cost for negotiating then men?
That’s where group think principals come in. The symptoms of group think can be summarized by three traits: flawed logic (“it’s always been this way”, “it’s just the way it is”), silencing of any opposition (“she’s seems too aggressive”, “there’s something about her I don’t like”) and external pressure (“if we pay her too much, then I may not get my increase”). All three of these are at play in wage parity challenges. No one challenges the parity issue because it’s always been this way, and even if women want to negotiate they stay quiet because the social cost to her is unacceptable. Underlying this is the constant pressure to compete for salaries, jobs and promotions.

What can be done?
Start by becoming more aware of how we stereotype and how it impacts our choices and actions. Make it safe for women to negotiate or seek out support from others who can offer you a neutral view or challenge your thinking. It’s difficult to change stereotypes that have been programmed in us since early childhood, but we can be aware of them and make continuous choice to change our behaviour.