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Stop Apologizing!

Vivia Chen

June 2, 2011

Brzezinski We [women] know better than anyone else what buttons to push to keep someone down. We know that other women . . . are afraid of not being liked, and we know how to keep them down.

Mika Brzezinski

 If you listen to some of the career advice out there for women, you're probably as confused as I am. You're told to step up to the plate like the guy next to you. But then you're warned that women can't make demands about money the way a man does. You're suppose to do it in a way that "works" for women, which usually means being a bit soft and less direct. But if you take a more feminine approach, you're accused of being manipulative or wimpy. A girl just can't win.

There's a lot of unhelpful advice out there for women, and I'm sorry to say, a lot of it comes from other women.

Mika Brzezinski, the cohost of "Morning Joe" with Joe Scarborough, addresses these issues in a surprisingly frank interview she gives in More magazine. (She's also written a book about how some famous women negotiated their careers, Knowing Your Value.)

Yes, Brzezinski is a television personality, which puts her in a different world from the legal set. Still, I liked her honesty--especially about how down and out she was when she landed at MSNBC. As she tells More:

I don’t know who you think Mika Brzezinski is, but she wasn’t “Mika Brzezinski” three years ago. I was a part-time, fired ex–CBS anchor who went to MSNBC on her hands and knees groveling for a job. When I got a freelance job, I knew my stock was down and my value was down and I had better shut up and take it and just hang on to it.

Even after the show's ratings went up for their coverage of the last presidential primaries, Brzezinski was still making just 7 percent of what her cohost Scarborough made.

It's worth reading the entire interview to see how badly Brzezinski fumbled before she finally learned how to ask for a raise effectively. I think many lawyers--particularly women--will identify with her mistakes. Here are my takeaways from the article:

• Don't start by apologizing. Brzezinski says she broached the subject of a raise with her boss by saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take your time. But I was wondering if . . . .” Needless to say, it got her nowhere.

• Don't play needy. She also tried to win her boss's sympathy by telling him how much of her own money she had to spend to be camera-ready for the show (for makeup, clothes, etc.). As she says, "it’s not your boss’s job to worry about your problems."

• Don't try to be macho. Next, Brzezinski tried to model herself after Scarborough. "So I went in and said, " 'F—, Phil, what’s the deal?' F-bombs flying." The result: her boss thought she lost it. "Crazy didn't work, either."

• Don't worry about being likable. "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,'" says Brzezinski. "Don’t blame her for saying that, but be horrified at me for caring and for walking out teary."

• Don't be too loyal. You know this one--and we all fall into this trap--which is thinking (or hoping) that you'll get rewarded for working hard. Brzezinski quotes Nora Ephron, who says, "one way you make more money in the workplace is by quitting and going someplace else."

So what finally worked for Brzezinski? She told her boss that she was going to walk unless he coughed up the money. She told him: "You are a bad boyfriend, and you need to marry me now or this is over and I’m gone."

Frankly, I found the boyfriend analogy a bit cringe-worthy. But I'm willing to overlook that because, overall, I thought she communicated the right message.

Readers, do you think women are too wimpy when they try to negotiate for themselves? What do you think works in getting more money and recognition?


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


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It is true that there are so many different career advice out there you don't know where to turn!!

Difference bet. women and men is that money is emotional for women and stirs a host of feelings of self-worth. Men, on the other hand, see money as a tool, as a snapshot and they see negotiation as sport, as a game of chicken.
While this issue of not being able to ask for what we're worth is certainly huge, it's only one of a number that we let get in our way. that's right, we have to bear some responsibility. Time to stop waiting for an invitation to a seat at the table. Just sit down.

Like any good salesman, you have to really believe in the product you're selling. If you're negotiating salary, you need to believe that you're worth the money.

If an employer wants loyalty from either men or women, he or she has to pay fair salaries and recognize good work. When the employer is clearly taking advantage, the only thing they can expect is that their employees will leave. Employees are not stupid, they can see it.
I used to worry about whether people liked me until I realized what I wanted was for the people I liked to like me. I didn't want creepy street men or rude ignorant people to like me, I wanted them to go away.
After that I worked on developing the necessary social skills to get the great friends I wanted, and now that I have that, I don't care what other people think of me. :-) Maybe this approach will work for others.

Brzezinski's book also offers good advice about how to argue--not just by threatening to quit--that the other party will benefit from giving you what you are asking for.

There is no reason for either a man or a woman to apologize for asking for what they think they are worth. Don't expect anyone will automatically give you what you deserve. It's all about leverage, so be willing to change companies if possible. Some women fear confrontation too much, so they avoid forcing the issue, and end up with no raise.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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