Asking for a raise is never easy, even for successful women like Mika Brzezinski. Famous for her on-air refusal to read a report about Paris Hilton’s release from jail, the outspoken journalist nearly quit her job as co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe when she found out that her male counterpart, Joe Scarborough, was making 14 times her salary. In her candid memoir, Knowing Your Value, Brzezinski shares how she found her voice and finally got the raise she deserved.
You speak frankly about your experience at Morning Joe. Were you worried about backlash from your employers?
I was very frank in the book. And you know what? It was liberating to write. Not a lot was edited out. In fact, two words were edited out. I handed it to my boss, the president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, and I sat with him, and he read this book in front of me, page after page after page—about himself, about our company, about what we went through, about the other women that have chimed in with me—and I sat there shriveled up, thinking, “This is it. How much of this are we going to redact? And how frustrated am I going to feel when I walk out the door?”
In the book there are moments where Phil uses a curse word, where he’s talking to Joe. He said, “Motherfucker, is she crazy?” Well, [in the book] I’d actually used the word “dude” to protect him. But he goes, “Nope. You know I don’t say ‘dude.’ I say ‘motherfucker.’ Can you put that back?” He basically corrected the one thing I didn’t put in there perfectly…Then he said, “What can we do to help you with this?”
I gotta tell you, I’m still surprised at what can happen when you’re transparent—when you’re just yourself and you tell the truth. And you’re honest not only about yourself but about the world around you. I have found that only positive things have come from it.
Speaking of transparency, how can women figure out how much they are worth to negotiate a raise?
Anyway you can. Find out. Do research. What’s the data? Who has the job that you have? Are there counterparts in your company? What about other companies? How much do they get paid? That information is out there.
I found out just by working with my coworkers, and us working so hard together that we ended up discussing these things. You can do that. Why not? Why is it taboo? You only help each other, by the way, by being transparent about what men and women make. You know what the worst thing is? Finding out in retrospect. I will tell you, I found out in retrospect that I was the lowest paid at the table of Morning Joe. That was a pretty degrading feeling.
Why did you—and so many other women—settle for less than what you were worth?
I don’t blame my company for getting the best price they could get for me. I don’t blame MSNBC for what I did, which was sign a contract and take a salary that was far below my value. I just want to be clear that actually, most of what went wrong for me started with me. It could have been fixed if I had been far more knowledgeable, deep in my heart, about what it was that I brought to the table.
None of this happens without addressing the psychology of it, and what it is that we want out of our employers. Far too many times we want to be liked. Loved. And to be considered part of the team more than we want our value. It’s stunning to me how much this happens. I was talking to a good friend of mine who appears in my book, More editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour, who talked about a boss giving her a pair of earrings and saying how much she loved her. It’s just ridiculous. So what? I don’t want earrings. I don’t really care what the emotion is. The question is do you respect my value? The only way you can show it is to pay for it.
Women in general are not making as much as their male counterparts, even at the second and the third level, and it will take a lot to get us where we should be, but we do need to address our part in this and what we can change in order to change that conversation, and that’s what I think that this book does, is it makes us take a look at the conversations before we have them.