We sat down with Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, who shared her excellent perspective and advice on how to best claim our space, own our achievements, and find balance in our lives.
Know Your Value
As women, we need to know our value. Historically, this has been an issue. How has this changed since 2011, when your amazing book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth was first published? Have great strides been made or are we idling? For instance, do women still ask for promotions at the staggeringly low rate of 85% less than their male counterparts?
Improvements have certainly been made. Fortune Magazine published an article in 2016 indicating women now ask for increased pay almost as often as men. Which is great, but, they aren’t getting what they are asking for. Why is that? We know that men and women conduct themselves differently. Sure, women make up almost half of the workforce, but our negotiation skills are behind. In Knowing Your Value, I talk about how women can find their authentic voice and get what they are worth.
Women can learn how to raise their hands and more importantly how to get what they want. But this takes practice and an understanding of what you bring to the table—without emotion or apologies for putting yourself forward.
What strategies are essential for women to employ so that we earn our deserved recognition and salaries, while exerting our strongest voice?
Strategy is the most essential component to being heard. You have to be organized and logical in your presentation. This way, they have to listen. Bring the data to back it up. Know how much money you bring to the company and how much it would cost to replace you. And NEVER, EVER, apologize for asking to be compensated fairly for what you bring to the table.
Women need to “claim our space.” How can we best do this?
Women, by nature, want to be liked. We don’t want to come off as aggressive, and we back into negotiations by apologizing. STOP. The negotiation table is no place for emotions or self-deprecation. You are worth X amount of money to your employer, so you deserve to make X amount of money back. It is a business transaction so remember to keep it that way and check your emotions at the door.
Women are still lagging when it comes to wages and leadership positions. What do you identify as the biggest obstacle that women face? And what is your best advice to get past it?
Stop being grateful! This “opportunity” you have has been earned. It has been earned by you. Your hard work paid off, so why are you grateful? When you received an A on a school project did you ever tell the teacher you were grateful? No, you most likely thought “I studied very hard - I deserved an A.”
If you are forever grateful of the current opportunity, you’ll never be daring enough to take advantage of the next (and bigger) one.
Talking the Talk
You interviewed many inspiring women over the years. For your new book, what new voices and perspectives can we look forward to hearing?
We have some amazing new voices in the upcoming expanded edition of Knowing Your Value. Melody Barnes, Katty Kay, Katy Tur, JJ Ramberg, and Kasie Hunt. I wanted to take the conversation we started in 2011 and update it with so many of the things that have happened for both myself—personally and professionally—and the world as it affects the way we talk about women.
You are always prepared and on point when you interview, yet you have this amazing ability to keep your commentary fresh, nuanced and engaging. Are these innate skills, or is there a general strategy you can share to help us bring high-level-achievement and authenticity to any career?
For me, it’s a bit of both. I talk about this in my book All Things at Once. Often the mediator in my family growing up, I was the one to speak up as silence fell during a lively debate, sparking a second wind for my parents and brothers. During these regular debates, I was engaged, I heard the whole conversation. Only during their breaks would I chime in, similar to how I engage on air particularly with Morning Joe.
Keeping commentary fresh comes from being engaged. It's knowing and listening to what is going on in the world and conversations around you. We are hit with a lot, A LOT, of new news, and they say history repeats itself. My strategy is to remain engaged, to listen, to understand each perspective, to understand context, and to find connections or distinctions in our current standings.
Walking the Walk
As all of us are, at one time or another, tasked to navigate new directions in our lives and careers. How do you keep emotion and instinct in balance?
I am learning to apply the lessons that I use in the work place to my personal life. Advocating for yourself, communicating effectively, and aiming towards specific goals are things that we should all do. I would suggest, regarding making decisions with emotion, that you avoid that as much as possible.
Have specific goals and make decisions that move you in that direction.
Helen Jon is a great promoter of women - and of talent. You underscore the importance of having “the right boss, the right employer.” What qualities do you think are most essential in defining a positive growth atmosphere for women?
I think it’s important to have mentors and to be a mentor when you can. And this applies to men and women. I’ve had male and female mentors, so I think it is important that we work to create a collaborative culture regardless of gender. Instead of an us vs. them mentality, we should be learning from each other and taking the strengths from both sides.
As a mom to two young women, do you feel that being — or having — a strong female role model is important? And, who, if anyone, is yours?
Absolutely! As a mother, I believe it’s important for my girls to see a woman advocating for what she deserves. Watching a woman be secure in what she wants is equally important. As a parent, it is my job to provide this example for my girls. I have made my mistakes. I have also had my triumphs, and I will continue to triumph, in cutting a path to my success. This success I want my girls to share in and to achieve in their own way. Carlie, Emilie you have a lot of work to do! And they can do it. But my job as a parent, as a mother, is to teach them how to get their hands dirty.
I see my mother, an iron-willed and determined woman, as someone to aspire to. Like any other girl, it took some time for me to truly understand my mother, but now I do. And thank God, because she knew a lot about what she was doing! My mother, well she is a tough woman! I mean she is 85 years old, waking up to work in her art studio with her trees and her chainsaw!
She put her passions on hold when my father was the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. When the Carter administration came to an end, she made it very clear it was ‘her turn.’ Not many women in the early 1980’s were bold enough to say such a thing to their husbands, even less to hold them to it. And my father supported her and her endeavors as she did for him.
Work-life balance. How have you navigated it — and, is there even such a thing?!
This is something I have also written about in my books. Calling it a “balance” implies I am two things, and that they each take a little away from each other. I, therefore, have to strike some balance where they each take just enough away without exploding or imploding. Work is a part of my life, it is a part of me. When I tried to tell myself I didn’t need to work forever, I was unhappy and empty. A part of me was missing. You have to find a way to make it all work – correction: you have to make what makes you happy work. If you start sacrificing parts of yourself you will never find a balance, you will only feel a self-deprivation.
Thank you, Mika, for your wise words, strong advice, and the excellent road-map you have laid out for us all.