What Caribbean professional women can learn from Mika Brzezinski’s “Earn It!”

Caribbean women are making great strides in the workforce, and in so many areas of life, but are still undervalued in so many instances.

They can take more than a leaf from NBC’s Mika Brzezinski’s book Earn It! Know Your Value and Grow Your Career in Your 20s and Beyond. The book was co-written by Daniela Pierre-Bravo.

Photo: Goodreads.com

Know your value. Yes, you can do this!

It can be a daunting prospect beginning your career in your 20s and then having to make your way up the professional ladder. You send out a myriad of job applications, ask yourself, “Do I have the right look?” “Am I able to do this?” “Do I fit in?”

Today’s twentysomething professional woman has gained a lot of grown – she has the degree, she has begun travelling, she is curious about world affairs, vehemently believing in climate change, and she is tech-savvy. All this while contending with life in the city.

But how does she know her value? How does she go about building her career? What lessons can she learn and apply?

Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, a best-selling author also juggles being a reputable broadcaster – as well as a tireless champion and advocate of pay equality for women.

Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski and one of her producers, Daniela Pierre-Bravo, share tips from their book, “Earn It!” (Photo: Today.com, MSNBC)

With a career spanning decades, she is now imparting her wisdom and experience to a generation of women starting out. She continues to proclaim that women must know their value and should not allow themselves to be short-changed.

In the book, Mika is of the view that young women should spend their early careers doing different jobs, learning the dynamics of the workplace. She stresses the importance of resourcefulness and tempering expectations – you will not begin by landing your dream job but rather concentrate on getting your foot in the door and work your way from there.

With today’s culture of instant gratification, social media and demands to look and act the part, there are inordinate pressures on young Caribbean women to, “make it big now!”

Still a ‘man’s world’, for now…

Mika counsels being patient, proving yourself and earning the right to make demands.  You are going to hear “no” more times than you hear “yes” in those early days.

Caribbean companies are renown for adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ approach when it comes to salaries, but Mika says women should know what their requirements are and how to negotiate effectively.

How many times have Caribbean women acquitted themselves well at their jobs yet never seem to get the same salary as their male counterparts? Or are stuck at the same salary for years with very little likelihood of that situation changing.

Well, Mika says, when you’ve earned it, you deserve it and you should have no qualms making that clear. She cites a Harvard Kennedy School survey that revealed 75 percent of millennial women between the ages of 20 and 29 do not feel confident negotiating their salary.

Mika takes every opportunity throughout Earn It! to advise young women to be committed to their jobs, work hard, take on tasks and deliver, work long hours if that is what is required. Don’t just talk a good game – perform well at it.

This, in turn, allows working women to leverage their value in moving up the ladder.

To buttress her convictions, the book is littered with insightful interviews with the likes of Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker, fashion designer Tory Burch, the queen of cuisine and décor, Martha Stewart and founder of Julep, Jane Park.

‘Communicate your value, women’

What makes Earn It! compelling is viewing female career advancement through the eyes of a millennial, the industrious Daniela Pierre-Bravo, who worked for Mika as a junior producer at NBC and Mika, a woman in her fifties who is now established, having fought many battles to become so.

In other words, one woman is on her way and the other is already there, offering materteral advice and a roadmap on how to get there.

If there is one thing you can take away from this book, it is right there in the opening line: “If I’ve learned one thing in my career, it’s the importance of being able to effectively communicate your value.”

‘Follow your gut. Set your own definitions’

Mika encourages young women to follow their gut and not allow themselves to be defined by what others expect of them. She uses her own career experiences here, particularly recalling taking on co-anchoring Morning Joe and sticking with it when everyone told her the show would be a failure.

Time and again Mika returns to the importance of earning respect and how that allows one to negotiate a better salary and terms at work. She points out that a big part of that is how one comports oneself in the workplace and forms a personal brand.

Daniela Pierre-Bravo’s personal story is inspiring and is the centripetal force of this work. This young lady has most definitely earned it. The challenges she overcomes along the way underscores Mika’s assertions.

The co-writer of the book tells of applying for many jobs, having to be economical with the truth on her resumé, going for a job interview across state at short notice at P Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment while holding down an existing job, moving from Ohio to work and live in New York – she is a scrapper who deserves her success.

Wage inequality rife across the Caribbean

A study by the Inter-American Bank (IDB) entitled New Century, Old Disputes (published in 2012) is very instructive on the plight of Caribbean women in the labour market.

According to the study, women hold only 33 percent of the high paying professional jobs in the Caribbean despite being educated and experienced. The wage gap between men and women is at 58 percent on average which is a travesty and seven years after this study not much has changed.

“In terms of women’s participation in the workforce, there has been progress in recent decades but the wage gap between men and women still prevails,” the study noted.

“The process of closing this gap has been very slow because misguided stereotypes and perceptions of the roles of men and women have distorted interactions, not only in the workplace but also in the home. These stereotypes, which arise even in early childhood, discourage women, thus limiting their access to careers with a better future in the labour market,” writes the study’s author Hugo Nopo.

With gender inequality with salaries persisting in the Caribbean, Earn it! serves as a guide for young women to navigate the world of work.

It seeks to address the reality that so many women begin their careers at salaries lower than their male counterparts and they never catch up.

Earn It! tackles the hard topics

If you are a parent, a boss, a fair-minded human being or just someone who is mindful of the welfare of the young women in your orbit, then this is a book you can recommend to those starting their careers or even those looking to climb further.

It is thought-provoking on topics such as making the most of opportunities, building your value, the importance of timing, getting the recognition you deserve and yes, how to earn it!