With years of experience under their designer belts, two of televisions most powerful women have joined forces to encourage all of us to stop apologizing, know our worth, and be heard (and not just seen) in the workplace. To do that, MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski and booking producer, Daniela Pierre-Bravo wrote best-selling book, EARN IT!: Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond. For Brzezinski, empowering women has been part of her MO since 2015 when she launched the “Know Your Value” (with her first book by the same title) movement in partnership with NBCUniversal. This inclusive community helps all women recognize, and be recognized for their worth, in both business and in life. Pierre-Bravo has served as a passionate millennial ambassador alongside Brzezinski but it was her incredible story of hustle and grind to get to where she is today that really inspired Brzezinski to write this book with her (you’ll have to keep reading to find out more). And we’re so glad they did.
In this conversation with the dynamic duo, we get their insight on how to know your worth, how to ask for a raise, how to get your foot in the door, and how to be confident in a job interview. Grab a pen, you’ll want to write these wise words down.
CC: Congratulations on the release of EARN IT—what inspired you to write the book?
MIKA: It was working with Daniela and hearing her personal story that really gave way to the concept of writing this book. For the first two years of knowing her I saw her as the ruthlessly efficient production coordinator on our team, she was scrappy and full of energy and so quick—we used to call her “Adderall.” We were sitting on a plane ride as she pitched me a concept for a platform to help young Latinos to earn valuable work opportunities they might not have access to.
And then she told me her back story and I was blown away. Daniela grew up in a small town in Ohio, not a lot of money, as the oldest of five. She was undocumented, paid her way through college without being able to take out loans, struggled financially, while working multiple odd jobs. She wanted to find work experience in a big city the summer before she graduated so she lied on her resume about where she lived saying instead that she was local to New York City.
She gets one call back from P.Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment—they want her to come interview… the next day. She’s panicking. Then she ends up getting on a on an 18-hour bus ride, nine stops through the night to get to Port Authority, washes her hair, changes in the bathroom and runs to the interview. She nails it and ends up getting another internship at MTV Networks part time. They are both unpaid so she works four side jobs – babysitting, dog walking, in bars and doing club promoting. She makes it work.
Then she starts all over again at the bottom of the totem pole working at Morning Joe working tough overnight hours, running coffees, printing scripts and a million other things at the show. She totally and completely earned her success. And she had been doing such amazing work doing her job that I was inspired to give other young women advice through her story. I knew we had to write this book, and that it was important to write the book through the lens of her experience. She opened doors and overcame barriers all on her own, and we want to teach other young people how to do that for themselves.
CC: For our readers who might not know all about you, tell us a bit about each of your backgrounds and what led you to where you are today.
MIKA: I have worked all my life in television news—starting at the age of 15 when I interned at the local TV station in Washington DC. I worked in local news for more than a decade and I have had jobs as a network correspondent, a network anchor, and cable news host. I’ve seen it all after 30 plus years in this business. What I’ve learned is that it’s hard to navigate as a woman and it’s hard to get it right because there are many mixed messages being sent to women in this industry and I have somehow survived and thrived through it. I felt the need to help other women navigate and make the right decisions in what can be a pretty brutal lifestyle and career choice.
I grew up in the bubble of Washington and my father served as the national security advisor to President Carter. I developed a real interest in the media watching them cover him. My parents are immigrants who fled Hitler during World War II. Their stories remind me of this incredible moment we face as Americans. Daniela’s story, to me, is also important to this moment for so many reasons.
DANIELA: I grew up without any connections or professional mentors, and found limited opportunities to achieve my career aspirations as an undocumented student in Ohio. Originally from Chile, I’ve always felt like I needed to make the sacrifices of my parents worth it. After struggling to get my foot in the door for working experience and taking risks to pave a way forward, I was accepted into the NBC Page Program where I rotated around the late night shows and ended up at Morning Joe. Two years into working with Mika, I decided to seek her advice to create a platform for young people whose struggles I related to early on. The next thing I knew we were collaborating on this book and she brought me on to be the millennial contributor to NBC’s Know Your Value.
CC: While we’re getting better, women still aren’t great at knowing their worth and asking for the money they deserve. Why do you think that is, and what advice would you give to a young woman who’s nervous to negotiate or ask for a raise?
MIKA: I’d say the fact that you feel nervous and uncomfortable is exactly why you will not get what you are worth. You need to read our books and follow our techniques because for some reason these concerns are ingrained in us as women. It is important to become confident and comfortable talking about your worth, your salary, and your growth. Women start at a lower level than men in terms of the numbers and they never catch up. This is the very reason I created Know Your Value.
DANIELA: Young women tend to get in the trap of being grateful just to be there. For young women there are so many mixed messages when you are starting out. You are, after all, just beginning to build and grow your skills and professional worth, which is why a sense of ambition to work hard and be scrappy is crucial. But when does that turn into real advancement? We need to work on identifying our timing and own our data and body of work. Build confidence by coming up with all the valuable ways you can continue supporting and contributing to the company while also pointing out what you’ve already done. Once you’ve earned it, you need to own that and channel that to the confidence you need to ask for what you’ve worth.
CC: One of the chapters in your book focuses on getting your foot in the door. What advice would you give to a woman who’s just starting out in her industry and having trouble doing just that?
MIKA: Read EARN IT! Young women are so consumed with getting the right job that they don’t see their nose in front of their face. Any job is a start, and you can build it from there. It’s at second and third job that can be very important in terms of getting closer to your goals. But sometimes women stop at the start because they don’t think what’s in front of them is enough, and then they don’t focus enough on where they want to be. Look at what Daniela did. She took any “yes” and she ran with it.
DANIELA: By not limiting myself where I started out worked to my advantage. It took off pressure knowing that I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be but that I was taking the opportunity to learn about the work environment around me–the good and the bad. Even less than ideal first jobs can be incredibly helpful, it helps you get closer to what you want to do quicker by process of elimination.
Effective networking is also incredibly important, and according to our research with Harvard University we conducted for the book, only 1 in 3 women feel confident making new connections and networking. Even if you don’t have immediate networks you can have effective outreaches to people you don’t know. In the book we go over the best ways to do that. But in general when you’re reaching out: Keep in mind people’s time and be concise, bring up something you share in common to show you did your research, and be specific about why you are reaching out. Have your elevator pitch ready to go!
CC: Communicating your value can be hard. What are three of the most important things we should keep in mind when we’re hyping ourselves up for a job interview or performance review?
MIKA: Make sure you know everything about the job and the company and do research on the person who will be interviewing you. Know your value. Know what it is that you bring to the table and what it is that you do that makes a difference. Be able to put it into words. Be comfortable discussing your talents, and your good qualities. Don’t feel like you need to fill the room with words. When you’re done talking, you are done talking. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence. Pauses are powerful.
CC: Let’s say I took a job I thought was my absolute dream and now I feel “stuck.” How do I pivot?
DANIELA: If you feel stuck, write down the reasons why you can’t imagine going back to your job. Then identify the root of those reasons. It may be that you feel undervalued because you are not being paid enough, it may feel like you’re stuck in a toxic work environment, an itch to move to another work culture, or perhaps you feel like you want to do something entirely different. Once you identify the why behind it, the steps to pivot into a new role will get clearer. Then you can identify what you need to do to get there; building a new network, asking for a raise, or taking a different approach at how you deal with work relationships in a tough work environment. There is always a way to reshape your career narrative.
CC: In a few words, what’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone on knowing their worth?
MIKA: Stop apologizing. Learn to talk about your value without it being uncomfortable. Keep an open mind about opportunities. Learn to press reset when you screw up. Practice good body language and eye contact and vocal skills and do not wait until the last minute to really work on these physical techniques because they immediately send a message about who you are and what you are made of. Dress for your message. Never give up.
DANIELA: The imposter syndrome was something I had to work through at the beginning stages of my career, because after struggling so much to get my foot in the door, I felt grateful for everything. But we have to distinguish early on where to draw the line of being grateful, and when to know you’ve actually earned your right to ask for more. So if you are negotiating what your worth is, it’s important to visualize exactly what you’ve done. Think about the long hours you’ve worked, the extra mile you went on to get that project right, or those times you’ve stuck your neck out for the team. A little striving is always good mental prep for the negotiating table.