Monday, July 18, 2011

Mika Brzezinski on 'Knowing Your Value' and showing yourself who's boss

"If you're not negotiating the size of everything, odds are, you're not going to become the boss", says Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett in Mika Brzezinski's,

Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth

Even infants know how to ask for exactly what they want, and to not stop until they get it.

Somehow - this book argues - women in the workplace have largely forgotten this basic skill, and are suffering financially and psychically because of it. I find this thought inflammatory - but also inspiring. Because reading something as ridiculous as the above statement makes me feel confident that it's solvable.

Mika Brzezinski, known for her gutsy, confident and articulate style on MSNBC's Morning Joe, reflects throughout this book on her own personal challenges at the negotiating table when it came down to negotiating her own (monetary) value. Not only did she fail ingloriously - and sometimes hilariously (there's a particular scene where she describes a failed attempt to model her co-host JoeScarborough when negotiating for herself, and awkwardly pokes an NBC executive who in turn awkwardly pokes her back) to improve her employment package, she did so whilst pushing herself to her physical and emotional limits, getting nothing in return 'except bad health'.

This realization is not new. Interestingly, stress management and wellness were among the two lowest ranked qualities in a current survey wimlink is conducting that to date has included over 100 women executives. 'Leadership' and 'Knowing how to take your career to the next level' are also key concerns.

This book covers all three of the above areas in droves with memorable anecdotes and helpful advice from key leaders including Arianna Huffington, Sheila Bair, Joy Behar, Tina Brown, Nora Ephron, Valerie Jarrett, Elizabeth Warren and Sheryl Sandberg. Even Jack Welch and Donald Trump pitch in - with sometimes polarizing perspectives.

Although most of the context for Mika Brzezinski's 'Knowing Your Value' comes from her own personal story of negotiating for what she was worth with NBC, this book goes far beyond just the issue of salary and right to the heart of what holds people back (particularly women) when it comes to going for exactly what they want in their professional lives.

So what are these heinous and stifling bugaboos?

Primarily, a misplaced sense of gratitude ('I just felt lucky to have the opportunity' - Sheryl Sandberg'), a belief in a pure meritocracy (where you don't have to fight for what you deserve/want, and instead wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder), and a desire to be liked rather than valued. Compliments, the author chides the reader, don't pay the bills.

Yes, yes - you might be thinking. I know all this. What to do???

The trick, this book suggests, is in focusing on what you can control (that is, your own behavior), and in cultivating the little things that lead to powerful changes. Like a willingness to consciously raise your hand and make your opinion heard. Or an unwillingness to apologize when you believe you're right, and therefore a willingness to risk being unliked. Or being prepared and persistent in salary negotiations, but prepping factually rather than emotionally.

The book describes one success strategy for women: being 'relentlessly pleasant'. It's not about holding yourself back, but holding yourself differently. In other words, you don't have to model make behavior in order to get results - unless it's a part of your authentic natural style. 'It's doing (things) with a softer touch, but with that same level of firepower and that's the difference'.

The book does occasionally linger occasionally in the muck of 'poor us!' by spouting self-fulfilling prophesies such as

'(Women) have to work harder, they take much longer to be promoted, and they have to prove themselves over and over again'. (quoting Ilene H Lang).

'But when women are assertive, it can hurt them, because being assertive is not an appealing trait in women'.

This seems a bit bollocksy to me, and in any case is not helpful as advice. It reinforces the (I argue, false) image that it's so much harder for being a woman in the workplace, when in the main it can just sometimes be a little different. But to her credit the author does consciously pull the narrative back in place quickly, just a few pages later reminding the reader that it's better to 'think about what (we) can do within the parameters of (our) situation.

The final point that the author makes is that women need to take matters into our own hands proactively, and also actively help other women.

Mika recounts how the most painful and least constructive confrontations she can recall throughout her career have been with women, not men, and that it has been in fact men who have been her most active sponsors.

Arianna Huffington also underscores the importance of women who have achieved levels of success to give a hand up and mentor younger women in a 'consistent, sustained way - which is ultimately sponsoring them'.

In the end, this book is all about self power, and remembering how to ask for what you want with authenticity and presence, in spite of discomfort.

'If you don't ask for what you deserve, you won't ever find out what you're made of, and what you truly can do'.

Is it possible that we're simply over-thinking this? That maybe it's not that certain things are intrinsically or genetically easier for men than women, but rather it's all learnable and it's just a matter of what you've learned, and what you choose to value? Either way, the book will be helpful, as it does a great job of highlighting and extracting the experience and wisdom of women who have learned specific skills through trial and error.

Julie Ruvolo has also just written an article that outlines how women are already doing a good job of helping each other in her blog for Forbeswoman in the New York tech and digital scene.

A wider variety of female role models is critical. As Hannah Riley Bowles points out, 'The high powered female executive is really a new phenomena, and these women are creating what that person is as they're doing it". In contrast, men have a lot of role models in the highest positions, spanning many years and industries. Creating a reference for what leadership looks like for men is just easier. But this is changing.

One uncomfortable salary negotiation at a time, it seems...

1 comment:

Ji Eun (Jamie) said...

As much as I love the crux of your review in this entry, I heart the sprinkling of Queen's English phrases:
"So what are these heinous and stifling bugaboos?"
"This seems a bit bollocksy to me"

I found this post as enjoyable as it is helpful.