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Why do otherwise smart, fearless women screw up when it’s time to ask for a raise? Mika Brzezinski spills the beans on big-time negotiating blunders including her own
IN EARLY 2008, Mika Brzezinski had been cohosting MSNBC’s Morning Joe for almost a year, yet she says that, in terms of the job, she felt “at the bottom of the barrel emotionally.” The team’s presidential-primary coverage had created major buzz, and ratings had soared, but even though she’d been one of the architects of the show’s success, she was still operating under an MSNBC “floater” contract and wasn’t even an official Morning Joe employee. As such, Brzezinski had to lay out her own cash for camera-ready hair, makeup and wardrobe, and other expenses related to her three hours of daily airtime, resulting in near-constant checking-account overdrafts. But most important, her salary was a mere 7 percent of what MSNBC was paying Joe Scarborough, the show’s host. Sure, as the program’s creator, he should earn more than the rest of the team, Brzezinski reasoned, but did the network really think she was that much less valuable? Brzezinski also made less than her fellow cohost, Willie Geist.
While she was hardly poor by many working mothers’ standards, Brze-zinski thought it was only fair that she get a raise. She made several overtures to MSNBC, but when they all failed, she told Scarborough she could no longer work in a position where she felt so grossly undervalued. She didn’t blame her colleagues for being better at negotiating their own compensation, or even her bosses for not giving her what she was worth. “I was the idiot who signed the contract,” she points out. But she was quitting. That set off alarms. Scarborough found a quick and unusual way to reward her financially (more on that later), and Brzezinski had another, much more satisfying sit-down with the network boss, Phil Griffin.
Happy ending? Yes. But resolving her own situation wasn’t enough for Brzezinski. The experience prompted her to start talking to other prominent women—including senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and FDIC chief Sheila Bair—about their salary snafus and successes. The result: Brzezinski’s new book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth. (Speaking of knowing your value, Brzezinski and Scarborough denied rumors, swirling at press time, that they were shopping a new show to other networks.)