“Morning Joe’s” Mika Brzezinski on Knowing Your Value
The “Morning Joe” co-host shares her personal and professional journey.
by Jonathan Riggs
May 01, 2015
The “Morning Joe” co-host shares her personal and professional journey in a Tuck Initiative for Women Symposium talk.
As a Williams College student, Mika Brzezinski visited her then-boyfriend at Dartmouth several times, none of which turned out to be a good experience. Whether it was the time he forgot to pick her up at the bus station in the freezing rain or the time he arranged a date with another girl the same weekend she was visiting, Brzezinski never forgot the epiphany he inspired.
“That was my first ‘Know Your Value’ experience because I did not marry him,” she said with a laugh during her April 30 keynote address at the second-annual Tuck Initiative for Women Symposium.
Referencing the title and theme of her 2012 book, “Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth,” Brzezinski shared personal and professional insights gained during a career where she’s anchored the “CBS Evening News Weekend Edition,” served as a CBS news correspondent, and co-hosted MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with former U.S. congressman Joe Scarborough.
“Mika and I work so well together. When people ask me, ‘What do women do better?’ I say, ‘Just about everything,’” Scarborough said. “If you want to get things done, have a woman run your office. Women have run my business life for 25 years: they’ve run it in Congress, in law, and now Mika runs it in media.”
“However, that’s the same quality that sometimes doesn’t get women to the top,” Brzezinski responded. “That’s the balance women have to strike. We can’t let being task-driven doers keep us down because we’re so good at it. We have to communicate effectively so that gets us somewhere.”
Accordingly, Brzezinski discussed what she’s learned from her own journey as well as the overall challenges and opportunities women face in the professional sphere. Here are some highlights of her talk, in her own words:
Joe talked me into doing this show that became “Morning Joe” and we ran around the country, booking politicians and thought-leaders to create an incredible product out of nothing with zero budget. About a year into it, we both got deals. I’d be in the car with Joe and I’d hear him talk to our boss, dropping F-bombs all over the place. “I’ve got to get the money I deserve,” he said, but I told him I was worried they would be mad at him for talking like that. Six months later we compared deals and Joe was making 14 times more than me.
He did a great job standing up for himself while I was cringing. I didn’t understand that there was a version of that I should’ve been doing for myself. Instead, I was just saying, “A contract? Thank you!” Even at 40 I had done this time and time again. Every contract I got, I just thanked them and never asked for more.
It’s important to go through the reasons why I made the mistakes I did, which I think a lot of women make, too. Why do we say we’re sorry all the time? Women feel responsible to make people feel comfortable at all times, to make sure people like us, and to worry about being friends. None of those three things have any use in a negotiation at all. Self-deprecation leaves money on the table.
Women need to let go of these worries when we’re negotiating or interviewing. Pauses are incredibly powerful. Awkward silence is total control. We don’t need to fill the air with conversation. We do need to have the right data. We don’t need to apologize, undersell ourselves, or play the victim. We should get the money because we deserve the money.
It’s not personal. I had made the whole thing, every step of the way, personal. Finally, I went in to our boss and had the conversation I should’ve had at the beginning, and he fixed things. It was that authentic, real, tough, powerful conversation that led to the change. It’s all about business—it’s MSNBC’s business to get a good deal for them, but it’s my business to get a great deal for myself.
Men can reset in real time; women need to learn to reset in general. If you have a bad interview and you see that person again, don’t carry it with you. For too long, I walked into every interview with “FIRED” written across my forehead. You have to own your experience and find your bearing—if you command respect and press the reset button yourself, others will follow. It’s important, though to push back in real time. Responding correctly in real time is crucial.
I documented every mistake I made in my book. To this day, I get women coming up to me everywhere I go, saying, “I read your book; I got a raise.” We’re talking women who are starting out to women at the highest levels. I met the woman who, over the past year, became the president of Ogilvy Africa. She said she was thinking about maybe going for a promotion and I said, “Why not CEO?” She didn’t think they’d never give her the money or what she needed for her family, but I said, “Did you think about asking? Let me give you my book.” Four weeks later, I was at an event and she was waiting at the door for me, jumping up and down, saying “I’m the CEO of Ogilvy Africa because of your book!”
The story in my book is universal. The women who make it do so despite these issues. The women who don’t are pulled down by them. With all these women coming up to me, I knew I needed to do more. I launched an event called “Know Your Value” where about 500 women from all walks of life came to talk and workshop about these societal issues that get in the way of women advocating for themselves. It was a huge success and now I’m in business with NBC to produce these events across the country.
What you want to become is someone who is fearless, aggressive, fierce, effective, and really good at what she does. How do you get there? By being tough, working for excellence, and paying your dues. It’s not bitchy to be really intensely focused on getting the job done, really good at what you do, and confident. Trust me, there’s not a man or woman on this earth who doesn’t want to hire that.
This is a conversation where both women and men need to be present—Joe being just as much an expert on “Know Your Value” as I am is exactly the point. It’s incredible that Joe told me his salary—otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten a sense of how undervalued a position I’d put myself in. Men who want to be a part of progress understand this and companies across America are getting the point, too. Let’s all step up and engage.