Money is power, and women aren’t getting their share of it. In America, men earn 20 percent more than women, and that disparity is even greater for women of color. Now is the time to close that gap—and these are the women doing it.
“Women are so good at knowing when their value is down,” MSNBC Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski tells InStyle exactly one week before Equal Pay Day 2018. “We’re great at articulating our deficiencies. We’re great at articulating our vulnerability. We’re so self-deprecating and concerned about what people think of us personally that we miss out on moments to leverage our value.”
Brzezinski should know. Hers is a story that, over the last near decade, has calcified into gender wage gap legend: In the early days of Morning Joe, she recalls, “I was still so grateful to have a job that I wasn’t noticing the headlines around me, the ratings, the obvious chemistry between [cohosts] Willie [Geist], Joe [Scarborough], and me, that you couldn’t find that anywhere on television.” So grateful that she didn’t push to be paid more—until one day, Brzezinski discovered that she was the lowest paid among her colleagues and that Scarborough was out-earning her 14 times over.
She decided she wasn’t going to undervalue herself for another minute.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had missed when my stock was up. I wasn’t going to miss it again,” she says. Brzezinski remembers sprinting to the producer’s office, swinging open the door, and telling him: “I know it’s a little late and I already signed my contract. But here’s the deal—I’m not coming to work tomorrow, okay? Not until we fix this.”
Ultimately, they did—though it wasn’t exactly easy. Brzezinski appealed to her bosses on five different occasions but in hindsight realizes why the first were failures: she apologized for asking. She’s said that she doesn’t fault MSNBC but rather herself, and she’ll never make the same mistake again.
These days, Brzezinski’s stock is as high as it’s ever been—and she knows exactly what she’s worth. She’s also taken her own experiences in the working world and turned them into a platform for helping other women recognize their own worth. Her book Knowing Your Value, was released back in 2011 and is getting a revamped reissue (as Know Your Value) later this year—one that doesn’t shy away from talking about President Trump’s tweets from last June in which he called her “low I.Q. Mika” and said she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” at a social gathering early in the year.
VIDEO: Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski Show us how to Create Fashion Staples
The president can expect some pointed words from Brzezinski in those new pages. “Trump was in the book the first time and he is certainly in this book the second time,” Brzezinski says. “I give a very behind-the-scenes look at some of the things he’s said and done to me and Joe, the behind the scenes lowdown on the facelift tweet, and the obsession that he has with women’s looks, the destructive nature of his presidency as it pertains to women.”
But while Brzezinski is more than aware that women are working with a deck stacked against them, she also believes that makes it all the more important to control the things within their power whenever possible. In the new version of Know Your Value, there’s an entire section on looks and body language—"the part that we can own and win the battle on, because he has brought this whole mannequin concept back into the American conversation about women," she adds. “And that’s not a successful woman.”
Both Know Your Value and her 2015 book Grow Your Value are also brass-tacks guides for getting what you want at work—and neither sugarcoats the ways in which Brzezinski believes women need to step up and take control of their own situations. For example: “Flexibility and part time can be the most bogus trap you ever walk into,” says Brzezinski. She brings up an interview she did for her first book release, in which a magazine editor confessed to hiring women part time because she knew she would get full-time work out of them anyway.
“Women overcompensate by nature. We want to make sure we’ve done everything ten times more, upside down, all around, so if we’re working part-time chances are our nature is still to give over full-time work,” Brzezinski says now. “So I would just cut to the chase on all this stuff: You’re going to work around the clock. You’re going to get the job done. Get your value from the get-go. Take flexibility—but get paid.”
Part of doing that is deciding not to obsess over the perceived perks of a role or undervaluing your potential to contribute from the very beginning. “I think we tend to gnaw away in our brains on issues like flexibility to the degree that we hear the job is flexible and then we take it,” she adds. “You know what? Make it work. If you bring great value to the table, they’ll make it worthwhile for you.”
“Obviously, I am supportive of any policies that help level the playing field,” she says, adding that it’s not likely that we’ll see policies like that coming out of this administration. “Having said that: Women need to step up and meet the challenge. Run for office. Leverage their value. Negotiate effectively for themselves. Step outside themselves and learn to speak in public. Advocate for themselves at the drop of a hat and never expect anybody to do it for them—that’s the part that I care about so much, because that’s the part to me that can change your reality today, literally in the next 24 hours.”
So while absolutely, there is a lot of work ahead of women—and men—on a structural front to address issues of pay inequity, Brzezinski has made it her mission to make sure women have all the resources to do what they can for themselves.
“Women miss the moment way too many times, and then over many decades we find ourselves separated by tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions from our male counterparts.” Her hope? That, after her tutelage, they’ll never miss that moment again.