Knowing Your Value

IMG_1755Five tips to help close the gender pay gap.

While flying to Seattle for a weekend in Montana, which ended up being a week in Oregon (read here), I read Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski. In this book, Brzezinski researches the gender gap, trying to understand why women hold less high-power positions and are paid less for the same work as their male counterparts.

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Here is the Amazon summary,

Why are women so often overlooked and underpaid? In Knowing Your Value, the prequel to her new book Grow Your Value, bestselling author Mika Brzezinski takes an in-depth look at how women today achieve their deserved recognition and financial worth.

Prompted by her own experience as co-host of Morning Joe, Mika interviewed a number of prominent women across a wide range of industries on their experience moving up in their fields. Mika shares the surprising stories of such power players as presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, comedian Susie Essman, writer and director Nora Ephron, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, television personality Joy Behar, and many others. Mika also gets honest answers from the likes of Donny Deutsch, Jack Welch, Donald Trump, and others about why women are paid less, and what pitfalls women face — and play into.

Knowing Your Value blends personal stories with the latest research on why many women don’t negotiate their compensation, why negotiating aggressively usually backfires, the real reasons why the gender wage gap persists, and what can be done about it.

Written in Mika’s brutally honest, funny, and self-deprecating style, Knowing Your Value is a vital book for professional women of all ages.

As someone who identifies with the feminist cause, I was really interested to check this book out. I personally have been in a situation where I was doing the same work as my male counterpart (although my position required additional training and certifications and arguably had more responsibility and potential legal repercussions to my company…And I had been with the company two years longer) and was being paid thousands of dollars less a year. Why was I, and other women, being treated unfairly? I took to Brzezinski’s book for an answer.


Brzezinski opens her book by talking about her experiences as an anchor woman with CBS, a company that eventually laid her off. After a long job search, Brzezinski then rejoined the news media world with MSNBC. Despite her skills and experience, Brzezinski had to work her way back up to the top where she finally became co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” At one point in this role, Brzezinski was making 13 times less money than her co-host Joe Scarborough. Talk about a slap in the face.

The words favored nations—that’s an expression all women should know. In other words, you always want to be paid no less than what anyone else is being paid. – Nora Ephron, writer and director

Negotiating pay raises and asking for promotions is an intimidating process that will likely only become easier with practice, so I wanted to one-up my skills by picking up this book. It was extremely eye-opening, relatable, and relevant to the gender pay gap issues we are facing today.

This book does not pretend to have all of the answers for why there is a gender gap, it instead presents differences between men and women that might account for it.

Here are some business differences between men and women that Brzezinski analyzes:

It’s Business:

One of the biggest pitfalls that Brzezinski found during her research is that women make things personal. When going into a meeting to discuss a wage increase, women typically feel the need to justify asking for more money. Brzezinski found that women are more likely to discuss personal life factors, like an ill parent or a child leaving for college soon, while asking for a pay raise, whereas men treat the request in a more straight-forward business approach, highlighting more the additional responsibilities they are taking on at work, rather than at home.

The take away: Focus more on explaining why you deserve the pay raise, rather than why you need it.

Don’t Give the Out:

During her research, Brzezinski realized how often women start a discussion about a pay raise or promotion with an “out.” Statements like, “I know you are busy,” “I know the budget is tight,” and “I am so sorry for taking your time,” provide your leader with the answer he or she needs to deny your request before you have even asked it. If you have planned this meeting ahead of time, then you shouldn’t need to thank your boss for showing up – at that point it is expected. Instead of opening your statement by thanking him or her for taking the time out of their busy schedule to meet with you, save it for the end. And although you may know just how tight the personnel budget is, that is for your boss to take into consideration, not you. This difference arrises from women being naturally more sympathetic and empathetic than men. In most cases, a man doesn’t put as much weight on the external influences on his pay raise as a woman will.

The take away: Don’t give your boss the ammunition he or she needs to deny your request. Focus on the factors that support why you deserve the pay raise instead of the factors that hamper it.

Side note: If the personnel budget really is the thing stopping you from earning more, look into different ways your company can reward your hard work, such as earning extra vacation time annually or stock options with the documented promise of revisiting your pay in the next six months.

Be Ready to Walk:

If you are going to negotiate hard and tell your company “either pay up or I walk,” then you have to be ready for your company to call your bluff. Theoretically, if you can present the facts in a clear and concise way (aka: “Here are the five additional responsibilities I have taken on recently and therefore am asking for an X% pay raise”), then hopefully it shouldn’t come to such extremes as walking away. At the end of the day though, do you really want to commit your valuable time and hard work to a company that doesn’t value you? Brzezinski recommends being ready for the worst by having an 8-month nest egg saved up, should you have to walk. Know your worth and know where you draw the line.

The take away: Sometimes you have to stand up and walk out for what you believe in, and you should always believe in yourself.

Push the Boundaries:

The biggest eye-opening revelation for myself came from an interview with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, where she was called out post-conference for stating she would only take two more questions, but then proceeded to take more…from men only. What happened here isn’t that Sandberg is sexist, it is that men kept their hand raised, even after the ‘final’ two questions had been answered. And it worked – seeing more questions in the audience, Sandberg continued to answer them.

A lot of getting ahead in the workplace has to do with being willing to raise your hand…If we as women don’t raise our hands in the workplace, we’re not going to get the same opportunities men do. Because men keep their hands up. – Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

You have to push the limits to get what you want, and sometimes that means completely disregarding the rules. The men had nothing to lose by keeping their hands raised and doing so gave them more of an advantage than it did the women who lowered their hands out of respect for the rules.

The take away: Especially when there is nothing to lose, test the limits, even if it means disregarding the rules.

Ask for It: 

Brzezinski’s research found that typically a man is more likely to ask to be considered for a promotion than a woman. Women, she says, generally believe that they will be rewarded for their hard work and will be considered for the position, so they don’t need to ask to be considered. This fatal flaw is why men traditionally hold more senior-level management positions than women. We all to often believe that life is a little more “fair” than it really might be, and if you worked hard, then why wouldn’t you get the promotion over an external hire? But I can definitely see it from both sides – of course I want to give the promotion to the person whom is not only just as qualified, but has also expressed an interest in the position.

The take away: Ask for the things you want. So next time you are in an interview, be sure to tell them just how much you want the job.

Just look around and you’ll see plenty of evidence that asking for what we want results not in the realization of our own worst fears but in getting what we want. – Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group

What I like most about this book is that it doesn’t just present the research findings to you, it allows you to walk along side Brzezinski as she does the actual research. As the reader, you sit in on the interviews and draw conclusions based on your personal experience, just as Brzezinski does the same based on her’s. I highly recommend this book for all men and women in any industry, because, at the end of the day, we know our value, and we deserve to be paid accordingly.


Does your boss – and more importantly, do you – know your value? What tips do you recommend for helping close the gender pay gap? Let us know below.


4 thoughts on “Knowing Your Value

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