Dirty Little Salary Secrets

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

By Amanda Robb
Mika Brzezinski More magazine
Photograph: Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

When you said you were quitting, didn’t Joe Scarborough buy some time by giving you his own bonuses, which were structured in his contract to kick in if the show attained certain ratings?
At first I was really embarrassed about being given [what felt like] a handout. But Joe insisted it was a business decision. In his mind, the incentives were money he was making because of us.

To decide whether or not to accept Joe’s offer, you called your dad [former National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski].
I thought maybe he would judge me and not condone it. But he agreed it was a smart, interesting business decision.

Then you finally asked MSNBC for a raise in a straightforward way?
Yes. It was me talking. I said to Phil Griffin, “You are a bad boyfriend, and you need to marry me now or this is over and I’m gone.” And I was dead serious. I said, “You’re going to do better than giving me Joe’s bonuses; you’re going to give me my own.” I went in
there knowing I was valued by the show and knowing it was up to me to get the network to value me, too.

In your book, Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, laments the fact that being girly—“helpless” or “flattering”—can sometimes work better than being assertive.
It can get a goal accomplished. And that’s great. But at the negotiating ta-ble, put the playacting away. You want more money.

But being tough can be dangerous for a woman. You tell the appalling story about Brooksley Born, who as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission back in the late 1990s tried to warn of the danger posed by credit default swaps. She was pilloried for being “difficult,” “stubborn” and “strident” and was ultimately forced out of her job.
The only way that this problem—being seen as bitchy—is going to be solved is by having more of us around. And the only way [that will happen is if] we stop eating our young and instead let more of us in the room.

You think women eat their young?
We know better than anyone else what buttons to push to keep someone down. We know that other women, and young women, are afraid of not being liked, and we know how to keep them down. The second or third time I tried for the raise, I got called in by a woman manager, who said, “Listen, don’t do this. It’s terrible timing. People won’t like you.” That’s a quote. Don’t blame her for saying that, but be horrified at me for caring and for walking out teary.

Do you worry less now about being liked?
I don’t let myself care, and it’s hard.

You write about how bad women are at self-promotion, whereas men seem to be born with a sense of entitlement. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adviser Elizabeth Warren, who has made the “world’s most powerful” lists of Time, Forbes and Fortune, said being called stupid “doesn’t cut to the quick,” yet “the notion that I’m self-promoting somehow makes me gasp.” That anecdote made me gasp.
When she was a professor, Warren took bad teaching shifts—“at the lousy hour on the lousy day in the lousy room”—that her male colleagues had re-fused. Why? Because “someone had to do it,” and she “felt lucky to be there.” More magazine’s editor-in-chief, Lesley Jane Seymour, talks about a time earlier in her career when she was rewarded with earrings instead of money for her “really good year.” Earrings? Seriously?

Obviously a lot of the women you interviewed became very effective at advocating for themselves professionally. What strategies work best?
Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett learned early in her career that simply working very hard wouldn’t win her advancement. She had to ask to be promoted. Nora Ephron says women need to stop being loyal “good girls” because “one way you make more money in the workplace is by quitting and going someplace else.”

First Published May 1, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


J 07.01.2011

This article prompted me to read the book. It's is a must read for any lady entering and negotiating her way in the workforce. Babysitters to CEO's should read it. She speaks to high level position women who all share one thing, they experienced the hardships of knowing their value and how to handle the workplace relationship with compensation and the investment they make.

danielle h.06.09.2011

This is an important article for everyone. I am glad she put the book together. I would like to read it. Sharing her mistakes along the way helps the rest of us learn instead of repeat those mistakes.
Being paid as we should and being able to negotiate for that are skills that we could all use more help on. Thanks for the article and book!

Vivia Chen06.02.2011

I've never watched Morning Joe, but I liked Mika's directness in the interview--so much so that I just wrote a post about it in The Careerist. http://thecareerist.typepad.com/thecareerist/2011/06/lessons-from-mika.html

I saw Mika on tv this morning talking about her book.
The Dirty Little Secret, from Mika Brzezinski, is to have the last name, Brzezinski!!
Her lack of intelligence simply astounds me.

Chris Caulkins05.23.2011

I think Mika, Phil and Joe should be ashamed of their ludicrous, drawn-out, monkey-in-the-middle histrionics.
Mika's description of her pursuits for another buck, and Ms. Brzezinski's blaming her failed attempts on her “girly patterns,” only makes them seem even more like the Three Stooges.
Shouldn't they be spending their time, absorbing the news, instead of running around calling each other “Motherf-ckers?”

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