Mika Brzezinski is best known as the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, but she's also made a name for herself as the best-selling author of a number of books, including Knowing Your Value. She released an updated version of the book this fall with new advice for young women seeking success in the workplace. Brzezinski has partnered with the personal finance company SoFi to spread her message that women everywhere should be strategically asking for raises, and spoke to Refinery29 at a recent event.
Why does it take women so long to understand their value?
I have no idea, except it took me a long time so I know that. I was very blessed to have been pushed along the way by two very well-educated, hardworking parents. I figure if it was hard for me, then maybe it's hard for other women, too. I realized this is a universal problem. I do believe that it's in how we're socialized. I think boys are socialized to grab to toy they want and girls are socialized to ask if maybe they could possibly have a toy. I don't know why that happens.
When you say it takes a long time, are you talking weeks, or months, or years?
I think it can happen tomorrow. I think there are techniques and strategies that I put on the table in the book that are immediate. Usually, when I talk to women at events, I want every woman to walk out of the door assuming tomorrow's going to be different because they have some tangible things they can do. I don't want it to be some elusive thing you have to study 10 years for.
You have a chapter in the book about emotionalism. A few years ago, you said that crying at work is "giving away power." Do you have an update on that or do you still stand by that?
I don't want people to feel like they can't be who they are and feel what they feel. I feel a little weird about a flat out rule of don't cry at work.
But I do think we take things so personally. The moment I describe in the book where I cried, was a moment where I should have pushed back in real time. I feel like we sometimes miss that moment because we take things so personally. Sometimes, you need to be ready to keep it real with the person you're talking to. If something feels wrong, say it.
On the other hand, we know that crying at work is seen as a stereotypically feminine behavior at work. And yet we're told to bring out whole selves to work, then told that strategically that's not so good. What about this tension between being pragmatic and keeping it real?
It's a fine balance. I look at how I handled the way the President tweeted about me. It was a mixture of humor; raw, real truth; and perspective. I think we can bring those things to the table, as opposed to this really upsets me.
No, it didn't. But everyone thought it did. So I was like, "oh my god, everyone is freaking out. This is horrible." It didn't bother me, but everyone's reaction did. I saw it as an opportunity to own my message. I really did appreciate the opportunity. Everyone was so upset, I said, "Let me show people what I'm made of." I handled it perfectly.
Is this what women should do when they're faced with these situations? I could see this as an analogy for when women get bullied at work, but how can someone see this as an opening and opportunity?
I think women would be very surprised at the reaction they get to pushing back to something that's genuinely wrong and that we don't agree with. We tend to walk away and say, "oh my gosh, did that person just say that about me?" Let me talk to Person A and Person B. Then it becomes this passive-aggressive thing where you build all this tension but you haven't even addressed it with the person you should be talking to about it. I think people really appreciate knowing where they stand.
We have a series called My Salary Story, where women take us through their entire career and salary changes. What would be the takeaway from your own salary story?
A "no" does not mean a "no" forever. You have to be you in that room. I was an awkward comedian who stuck it to them and got what I should have been getting the whole time. I was really proud of the process. I was 20 years into my career, so it was a long time coming.
What's the biggest raise you've ever gotten?
Well, I was paid 14 times less than Joe. Now, I'm in a good place.
Mika Brzezinski is hosting a “Know Your Value” conference in San Francisco on Dec. 1 with keynote speakers Sen. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Vargas and more. Women in California can also enter Mika’s “Grow Your Value” contest for a chance to win a $25,000 grand prize at the Dec. 1 event.