cookies, girl scouts

Girl Scout Cookies: Teaching the Right Skills?

In honor of tomorrow (3/8) being International Women’s Day and it also being everyone’s favorite time of the year, Girl Scout Cookie season, I felt today’s post would be relevant. A few years back I posted on Facebook about this and it seemed EVERYONE had an opinion on it, so I thought I would revisit this topic since it’s that time again.

Sometime ago I came across a study conducted by Linda Babcock, an economist out of Carnegie Melon Business School who’s been studying why women are hitting a glass ceiling in average salaries across the US. To briefly summarize, she conducted a study based around a negotiating game that looked at how negotiating differs between men and women. She found that when men and women were offered a variable fee (they were told they would be paid between $3 and $10) men were 8.3x more likely to negotiate when offered the minimum amount of $3. In fact, almost no women at all in the study negotiated for higher.

“Whether you’re talking about the glass ceiling, entrepreneurship, sales, or anything else related to business, negotiating for yourself is a crucial skill to have.”

I didn’t find this believable at first. When you break this down percentage wise, men were 830% more likely to negotiate which almost sounds made up. However, yesterday while leaving the grocery store a shining example was unveiled before me. As I was leaving, the couple walking in front of me walked out the exit to a table posted right next to it with a beaming young Girl Scout who simply said “Hi!”. Mind you, this was not “Hi, would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?” or “Hi my name is _____, and today I’m selling Girl Scout Cookies to try and raise money for our troop.” She just said “Hi!” and the couple immediately proceeded to the table to purchase what I presume were several boxes of Thin Mints® (because honestly, who buys any other flavor?).

Can you guess who took over the transaction from there? You probably guessed right: it was the parents, not the Girl Scouts.

Why is this? Why would parents do their daughters such a disservice and not allow them to practice their sales and negotiating skills? Skills that have significant real world value. SKILLS THEY ARE THERE TO LEARN. While I could speculate on many different reasons, I believe the overarching reason revolves around the societal norms we tend to adhere to with young women. This leads me to my next point, which is that part of what is contributing to the glass ceiling women are experiencing is actually stemming from patterns adopted during childhood. Young girls often don’t have to bargain or negotiate for themselves, because their parents, for whatever reason (perhaps they think girls are vulnerable), do it for them.

Now this part may be purely anecdotal, but when I was young and had to sell candy bars for football/baseball, I had to do my own sales and leveraging. At one point, I literally went door to door with just my brother – my parents did not accompany me. So did most of the guys I knew (or so they said). Was there an inherent reason for this? I don’t know, but the research would indicate that my experience was not an isolated event.

women, empowerment

So what’s the takeaway from this? Whether you’re talking about the glass ceiling, entrepreneurship, sales, or anything else related to business, negotiating for yourself is a crucial skill to have. This is a skill that should be taught to both young boys and young girls alike. It will pay significant returns later on down the road when they command a higher salary at their first job, or even better, convince investors to contribute to the their startup. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider researching a few tips on negotiating and tailoring them to a level your child (or even just yourself) can understand.

One final piece of advice that especially applies to women (though men too!) is this: if you feel you can’t negotiate well for yourself, try pretending like you are negotiating on behalf of someone else. In the study mentioned earlier in the post, the group that was found to be one of the strongest in terms of negotiating skills was women who were negotiating on behalf of a friend. At that point, the tables completely turned and they often negotiated stronger than their male counterparts. It may not seem easy to just “pretend,” but if you practice beforehand that pretending can turn into the real thing.

As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please share in the comments below.