When women are not paid what they are worth, they often blame it on their own shortcomings — even the women who are most successful. When Mika Brzezinski, cohost of the “Morning Joe” television show and an MSNBC anchor, found she was spending more than she was earning — given the costs of childcare, wardrobe, travel, and babysitting — she was so frustrated that she almost quit.
She didn’t, but this close call got her to thinking about how she had repeatedly undermined herself with the words and strategies she had used in negotiating a raise with her boss. She writes in her new book, “Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth”: “No manager and no network executive was responsible for my plight. The failure to effectively communicate rested solely on me, every time.”
In what was in part an exercise to learn how to get what she needed in the workplace, she decided to write a book based on her own experience as well as on interviews with other successful women. Her goal was to find out whether other women had the same difficulties and learn how they overcame them. She learned that even big names like Nora Ephron and Yahoo chief executive officer Carol Bartz had been in the same boat.
Brzezinski will discuss and sign her new book on Tuesday, June 28, 7 p.m., at Barnes and Noble in the Princeton Market Fair. Lines for seating will begin at 6 p.m. For more information, contact Debra Lampert-Rudman at 609-716-1570 or email@example.com.
First, what not to do:
Don’t get in your own way. Brzezinski describes attitudes, feelings, and ways of relating that keep women from grabbing opportunities and asking for the promotions and higher pay they deserve. What is it that gets in the way? Feeling that if you are doing a fabulous job, you will get noticed. Being happy to have your wonderful, challenging job. Not getting it that often you just have to ask for that opportunity or those extra bucks.
Don’t behave like a man would. Once Brzezinski tried to copy the approach her male boss used when he wanted something from his own boss, who was also his buddy. Not only did her obvious imitation fall flat, but it left the big boss wondering if she had gone off her rocker — and she did not get her raise.
Women need to find a comfortable way to assert themselves. But this may not be easy. First of all, there’s the old problem of people describing a man as assertive and a woman as aggressive for using the same approach. Brzezinski writes, “The double bind is this: in order to be a competent leader, you need to be assertive — but if you’re a woman, you’re judged harshly for displaying the traits that make you an effective leader.”
And in fact women are often simply not comfortable being aggressive. They want to be liked by their bosses and viewed as team players, which can also be counterproductive at the bargaining table. As Brzezinski writes, “I have learned the hard way that compliments don’t pay the bills.”
Don’t get emotional. By expressing emotion during a negotiation, a woman appears weak and will lose the respect of her boss. The same is true when a woman is apologetic about asking for a raise. Never start out with a phrase like “I don’t know if you’ll consider,” suggests one of Brzezinski’s interviewees.
Brzezinski moves from what doesn’t work to offer suggestions about how women can more successfully get what they need professionally:
Feel entitled to what you deserve. Women are often willing to help out where necessary, taking on low-level tasks that don’t get the big play when it comes to compensation and advancement. One word of advice is not to do work unless you are paid for it. Don’t take a job just because you feel lucky to get it.
Stand up for your ideas. Not only should women not be afraid to raise their hands and contribute during a meeting, but if someone else has restated your idea and taken the credit, you need to reclaim it. Bartz shares how she has responded in this situation: “I said that 10 minutes ago, what was it about the way I said that that didn’t really work for you guys?”
Know your market value. When approaching a negotiation, prepare a one-page outline of your achievements. Be knowledgeable about what other people with similar skills and responsibilities are being paid. That means gathering the facts and figures you need.
These, suggests Brzezinski, can be gleaned from indirect conversations with fellow employees, relationships across the industry, and even online research. And once you know your value, ask for what you’re worth.
Time it right and make your pitch. Approach your boss before salaries are traditionally renegotiated — before they have been inked into the Excel file that contains next year’s budget. Always keep in mind that every future raise is a percentage of what you are making now.
It’s better to not present your boss with a yes-or-no question such as “Will you give me a raise?” Rather, approach with a choice — “I deserve a 10 or 12 percent raise: which one would you like to give me?” Another useful idea is to say, “I know you’ll be fair with me,” which, says Brzezinski, assumes a shared understanding of what is indeed fair.
Hold your ground. As men often know and women don’t, the first “no” is not necessarily the final answer. Although in tight economic times, employers may have their hands tied, otherwise it’s in your interest to keep the conversation going after your boss’s first refusal. And, in the end, if “no” really did mean “no,” there was no harm in trying.
Be ready to leave. If nothing goes the way it should, and you are not valued, you should be ready to leave a company. And, Brzezinski says, you should always be checking out other possibilities in your industry so that you have options if you do have to walk.
A native of New York City, Brzezinski is the daughter of foreign policy expert and former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. She graduated from Williams College with a degree in English.
She began her journalism career in 1991 in Hartford, Connecticut, as a general assignment reporter at radio station WTIC. A year later she moved onto television at WFSB, also in Hartford, and quickly became the weekday morning anchor.
Brzezinski joined CBS News in 1997 as the anchor of “CBS News Up To The Minute,” but took a short hiatus in 2000 to co-host MSNBC’s weekday afternoon program “Homepage.”
In 2001 she returned to CBS to become their principal “Ground Zero” reporter for the September 11 terrorist attacks. She then served as an anchor of the “CBS Evening News Weekend Edition” and a CBS News correspondent who frequently contributed to “CBS Sunday Morning” and “60 Minutes.”
Having lost her job at CBS News in the wake of a scandal about a “60 Minutes” story on George W. Bush’s military record, she spent a year searching for a job. She started at the bottom again at MSNBC as a freelance news reader.
She slowly assumed more responsibilities, but the big change came after a chance meeting with Joe Scarborough, an MSNBC prime-time talk show host and former Florida congressman who worked out of Pensacola. Scarborough invited her on the spot to join him as co-host on the “Morning Joe” show he hoped to launch. She took the job, which involved engaging with journalists and analysts in lively, intelligent, and respectful political discussions.
But it turned out that the job was not quite the job she thought she had. Her contract did not list her as a co-host, and despite the fact that she took primary responsibility for finding interviewees and served as co-host, she also was expected to do other jobs for MSNBC as necessary. Then she was offered her own one-hour show following “Morning Joe,” but she shot herself in the leg by taking it without asking for a concomitant increase in salary.
After she and Sacrborough landed an interview with Hillary Clinton during her 2008 New Hampshire campaign, Brzezinski’s boss, instead of giving her a big high-five, criticized her for the ugly plastic hairclip she had had to grab at a drugstore.
Brzezinski eventually reached the point of no return, where she would either have to be paid what she was worth or leave. She shared her feelings with her co-host, who tried to make amends by moving his own ratings bonuses over to her account. But this was not enough for her, and when she went in to talk to the big boss at the network, he understood that it was time to pay her what she was worth or lose her. She had finally recognized her own worth and was able to successfully communicate it at the bargaining table.