The ‘Morning Joe’ co-anchor and her BBC host friend on avoiding the b—ch label and being women in ‘misogynist’ Donald Trump’s America
This is the first piece for “Uninterrupted,” a series in which Moneyish talks to female leaders, who also happen to be friends, about the issues that matter to them.
It’s always morning in Mika Brzezinski and Katty Kay’s America.
For a decade, the “Morning Joe” co-host has been the prominent female third of politics’ favorite morning show, while Kay is a key figure for the BBC’s U.S. news operations. The two women met when “Morning Joe” launched on MSNBC ten years ago and have a friendship that now extends to completing each other’s sentences and unabashedly gushing about each other. Their latest collaboration: helping women to understand their real value.
The 52-year-old Kay, who also co-anchors the BBC’s “Beyond 100 Days,” is a regular presence on “Morning Joe” and will speak at “Know Your Value,” an Oct. 30 conference developed by Brzezinski for a female audience. The 50-year-old Brzezinski did the same this year for “Confidence Code Girls,” an event co-organized by Kay to help teenage girls develop their self-worth. “She and I talk about these issues all the time as friends, so it’s a natural extension of that conversation to work with each other,” says Brzezinski in the two BFFs’ first joint interview.
While the duo have long been actively involved in so-called “women’s issues,” their efforts took on a certain urgency after the election of President Donald Trump last November. Both women have publicly tangled with his circle: as a Trump surrogate last year, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson asked that Kay’s microphone be turned off when she asked him a tough question. And Trump famously insulted Brzezinski— a loud critic since he took office— on Twitter this past summer.
“The tone towards women has sunk precipitously since he was elected,” says the Oxford-educated Kay, who was born in England. “It’s as if the gloves are taken off for people to say things about women they previously hesitated to. Even things we thought we’d fought for and won—like access to contraception—are now being reopened.”
That said, she’s not backing down in face of criticism, especially that leveled at female reporters for being aggressive. Being called a “b—ch often comes in when you’re trying to play a role,” adds Kay. “If you’re inauthentic and think ‘oh my god, I have to put on bravado and this suit of armor” instead of just doing the job.
“President Obama had a personal respect for women in his life. Now we have a president who’s a misogynist,” says Brzezinski of her longtime frenemy, who offered to officiate her upcoming wedding to Joe Scarborough. (For his part, the president has repeatedly said that “nobody that has more respect for women” than he does.)
Mika Brzezinski and Katty Kay want to help women ward off ‘gropey’ men (and make more money while they’re at it) https://t.co/Vt65SRG4yO
— Moneyish (@Moneyish) October 2, 2017
Though Brzezinski has spoken with Ivanka Trump about her efforts to increase female participation in the workforce, both women are more optimistic about what’s going on in the private sector, pointing to pioneers like Indra Nooyi and Gini Rometty. Females now obtain college degrees at a higher rate than men, and there’s some evidence the gender pay gap has slightly narrowed.
Still, Brzezinski thinks women have some way to go in having their voices equally heard. “We often fall back on expecting people to notice our problems,” she says. “A lot of companies are really good, but they can’t read your mind. That’s why we’re working with women to develop a crisper voice.”
Before Brzezinski renewed her first contract with MSNBC, she was reportedly making 14 times less than her co-host Scarborough. She made details of her negotiation public in a bid to encourage women to bargain more aggressively. “I hate speaking in front of crowds and still sweat, but go practice speaking in church or have a party and make a toast,” says Brzezinski, who negotiated her last book contract without an agent and is encouraging Kay to not rely on hers for future deals. “Doesn’t your boss want to know you can be an effective, aggressive negotiator? Show it to them in real time and tell them: ‘you want a strong woman who’s going to close a good deal.’”
“If have a realistic sense of your value, versus undervaluing yourself, which is what women often do, you can negotiate with warmth,” Kay adds.
Difficulty speaking out is another barrier when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, an issue that’s received significant recent attention following scandals in Silicon Valley. Both women give each other knowing looks when the subject is brought up. “I’ve had a couple of instances where very powerful men in this industry have been too gropey with their hugs and kisses,” says Brzezinski.
“Or with their suggestions,” Kay is quick to add.
“I wish I’d been like ‘what are you doing’ in real time, which is what I do now,” Brzezinski says, “It’s not ok for someone to hug you and have their hands down your rear end.”
“It’s because you didn’t have as much power and confidence then,” says Kay. “But even if in real-time, a 25-year-old can’t tell her boss that what he did was inappropriate, can she come to someone like us and we then say it? These things are dealt with, with a horrible veil of secrecy. It’s like abuse.”
The gradual rise of successful women though, has led to some discontent. Just see the emergence of so-called men’s rights activists, who rallied against Hillary Clinton, the first woman to become a major political party’s presidential nominee. Kay however, insists that it’s not a zero sum game. “All the evidence out there is that organizations are better off when males and females are balanced in leadership” ranks, she says. “Companies that employ more women make more money. Who doesn’t want that?”
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