Seated quietly on ghost chairs in a darkened loft, hundreds of young professionals listened as Mika Brzezinski, the famed co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” explained the challenge she faced getting a raise shortly after the show started.
“I must have asked five times,” she said. She recalled receiving advice from Joe Scarborough, her co-host and now fiancé, along the way. “They aren’t supposed to like you,” he once screamed at Brzezinski, she told the crowd, after an interaction with a company higher-up left her nearly in tears.
Brzezinski told that story and the advice that came with it — “You don’t have to be completely agreeable at all times, but you need to be respected” — as part of an event hosted by SoFi, a company best known for refinancing student loans, but which now has reaches in mortgages, checking accounts and other consumer finance products.
The event was part of a broader campaign launched by SoFi earlier this month to encourage its customers to “Get That Raise.” In addition to the event with Brzezinski, the company set up an online tool workers can use to assess their value in the market and create a plan to ask for a salary bump.
Today’s young workers are historically underpaid and due to rising college costs, they’re also more likely to come into the workplace with student loans.
Women carry the bulk of the nation’s student debt
“You’re behind no matter what,” said Kim Churches, the chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women, an advocacy organization for gender equity in higher education. For women, the situation is even more troubling. Women make 80 cents for every dollar men earn, a figure that hasn’t budged since last year. They also carry the bulk of student debt; women hold roughly $1 trillion worth of student loans.
The concept of knowing how much you’re worth and figuring out how to articulate that is one that Brzezinski has thought a lot about over the past several years. She wrote “Know Your Value” in 2011, a book with interviews and advice to help women assert themselves more at work and in relationships. She recently re-released an updated version of the book with additional advice more relevant to our current political and #MeToo era.
“We have so much work to do across the country,” Brzezinski said in a recent phone call. “Not until every woman in every job feels like she knows her value are we going to get anywhere.”
Public speaking may help when asking for a raise
To help with that mission, Brzezinski shared experiences from her own life and tips more applicable to an audience relatively early in their careers. She suggested workers practice speaking publicly so they know how to deal with the discomfort that will certainly come when asking for a raise. She advised the audience to develop a rapport with their boss so that by the time they come to the negotiating table there’s a sense of trust.
Libby Leffler, the vice president of membership at SoFi, said you should come prepared. That includes knowing whether you’re making as much as similarly situated peers, but it also means understanding what your boss wants and how you can deliver on it and already have, she said. For example, list your achievements, not the length of time you have been at the company.
For women, Brzezinski offered more specific suggestions: Avoid saying I’m sorry, be more comfortable with being told no, have less fear asking for money for yourself. These were some of the reasons Brzezinski believed she failed in her quest for a raise the first few times. “I wrote the book because I was actually so horrified with myself,” she told the crowd.
Women have to fight to achieve financial equality
Brzezinski’s advice and her continued willingness to reflect on her own career challenges can certainly be inspiring and motivating for young workers, particularly women, looking to move forward in their career. The rah-rah attitude SoFi imbued in the event — the phrase “Get That Raise” was stamped on water bottles and projected on the wall — can also help those who may feel uncomfortable discussing money to ask for more.
But it also belies a depressing reality. Today’s young workers, and in particular, women, have to fight to achieve financial stability and equality. A screen set up near the DJ booth at SoFi’s event all but confirmed the challenges today’s young people face. It featured messages from attendees about why they want to “get that raise.” Many included some form of “pay off my student loans.”
Negotiating help, like the tips provided by Brzezinski and SoFi are an important step in helping to counterbalance these challenges, Churches said. But it will take a multi-pronged approach, which includes increased funding for higher education and laws that demand pay equity in the workplace to truly change the economic system that has young workers so eager for advice on how to make more money.
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