Tina Brown: On equal pay

In an exclusive interview, UBS and Tina Brown speak about women, money and equality  

10 Apr 2018


  • UBS sat down with Tina Brown for an exclusive interview about women, money and equality, ahead of her 2018 Women in the World Summit in New York, of which UBS is a key sponsor.
  • Despite achieving great success early in her career, Tina Brown says that, like many women, she initially had difficulty asking to be paid what she was worth.
  • "The pay equity issue, in my view, is a running sore of our society," Brown says.
  • Read "Own your worth—How women can break the cycle of abdication and take control of their wealth"

In an exclusive interview, UBS's editorial team spoke with renowned editor and founder of Women in the World, Tina Brown, ahead of the 2018 Women in the World Summit in New York, of which UBS is a key sponsor. Brown's passion for the written word, awareness and unique perspective on what makes the planet turn and keep turning led her in 2010 to found “Women in the World,” something borne of the experience and deep connections she cultivated in her decades-long career.

The summit brings together leaders—both known and soon-to-be-discovered ones—who share stories and solutions to build better lives for girls and women. Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Christine Lagarde, Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep are just some of the past marquee names to present at past summits. Speakers at this year's summit include Clinton, Academy Award-winner Viola Davis and The New Yorker contributing writer Ronan Farrow, among others.

In a two-part series, we sat down with Brown to discuss the launch of our Women’s Segment research, her storied career, as well as her husband, children and what money means for women.


Tina, thank you for your time today. As you know, we are launching this Women's Segment in part to create awareness around how women talk, feel and handle their hard-earned money, which is often seen as the last taboo standing. While we are looking to help women become financially aware and confident, we are also looking at women as a population, really, rather than just a "segment."

I just love that topic of emotional money and our behaviors around money. The more we discuss it and get it out in the open, the less of a taboo it will be.

In fact, that’s a large part of what will be discussed at our panel, "Emotional Money," at this April’s Women in the World summit, of which UBS is a sponsor.

Tina Brown:

Oh, I just love that topic of emotional money and our behaviors around money. The more we discuss it and get it out in the open, the less of a taboo it will be. I think that we need to bring this all to light. I’m really excited about it, and just love working with UBS. They’re just a great group of people, and really imaginative and smart.


Diving right in, let's talk a bit about your book, The Vanity Fair Diaries. What were your experiences as a powerful woman who was, from a very young age, working and being an incredibly influential voice in the media world? I'd then like to delve into the financial part of things—becoming an editor of the U.K. society glossy, Tatler, at 25 and move from there.

Tina Brown:

Well, I had my break very early in my career. Because I was glad as a young 25-year-old to be given such breaks, I tended not to negotiate with any particular beady-eyed thoughts of the future, as one doesn't when one is very young.

Then when I was brought to the U.S., again, it was a huge break at the age of 29, to be the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. I was given a salary of $120,000, which was fifteen times the one I made in the U.K., so it seemed like a huge amount of money, but without my even thinking about the expense of Manhattan. ...And indeed, it was a very good start salary at the time.

What changed, of course, was that after three years I had turned it around and turned it into a juggernaut hit, yet I was still being paid the same amount, with a few little incremental raises. That's when I began to start asking myself whether I was paid the right amount, because I was mixing with the media crowd and found they were being paid four times that amount.


Did you hear anything about your male counterparts?

Tina Brown:

Yes, I did. First of all, after three or four years, when I turned the thing around, the chairman of Conde Nast, S.I. Newhouse, called me in and said, "You’ve done absolutely marvelous, congratulations and we’d like to give you a raise. We are going to raise your salary by $14,000." And I remember thinking: "Why not $20,000, at least? What's this $14,000 all about?" But, of course, what did I do? I didn’t say, "That's great, but I’d like to be recognized for what I'm doing."


Do you think that had to do with being a woman?

Tina Brown:

Well, that's what I'd say. The fact is that that’s what he offered, and typical of being a woman, actually, I said: "Thank you very much. That’s great," but I walked away feeling slightly puzzled.

Then I learned that [a male editor at Conde Nast] who was doing much less well than I was, in terms of what he faced coming in and turning it around, was paid  about $50,000 more than I was, and I became extremely aggravated.

That dovetailed with my being offered another job from the competition, from Hearst, to run Harper's Bazaar. Bazaar was suddenly offering me bonus points and stock options, a huge, much better package. Just way better in every way.

So I hired an agent, which I'd never thought of doing, to go and talk to my own boss, but I came to realize that I couldn't have that conversation.  I was very shy.  I was young, still.  Nonetheless, I would have been more confident asking to be paid what I was worth, but I found that a very difficult conversation to have.

I would have been more confident asking to be paid what I was worth, but I found that a very difficult conversation to have.

So I asked this agent to go in and have this conversation, and he emerged with something I never ever would have thought I could have got, frankly, and which was something better than what Hearst was offering me.  It was about four or five times what I was being paid, with a lot of security at the end of it, plus enough to pay off my mortgage. So it was just an amazing score, frankly. I had absolutely no idea such a thing was in my grasp, or a possibility.

What’s interesting is that he didn’t even have to extract it with a great deal of difficulty. He just asked on my behalf, in a way that I didn’t have the authority to do. That really did transform my finances, of course. Then I started asking about investment advice and what I do with this change in my circumstance, etc.

That was the beginning of my ever even thinking I was worthy of getting anything other than a paycheck.


What strikes me is that as successful and well-respected as you were and are, you had difficulty broaching the topic, of taking that initial step of asking for what you were worth. It seems there’s still that hurdle for most women, no matter how well they’ve done professionally, to ask for equal pay.

Tina Brown:

Absolutely, I agree, but you know, it's difficult. For instance, I was talking to a big Hollywood lawyer about the pay gap, and I said to her, "Well, maybe the agents aren't as active on behalf of the women stars."

She got very annoyed, and said that she always asks for large sums for women, too. She said she’ll always get the answer: "Oh come on," as if it's like, "Why would I ever pay that amount for her?"

She said, "It's amazing how there's a sense of, 'You're being excessive. Why are you asking for that amount of money for this [actress,]?' " but they won't come out and say it.


The gender gap doesn’t only affect an individual, though. It has negative implications and ripples across so many aspects of our society. It can also affect the bottom line for a company in terms of women quitting rather than asking for more money, having to work longer in order to retire comfortably at the same age as male counterparts.

Tina Brown:

The pay equity issue, in my view, is a running sore of our society. There is a sense that women are working for longer, and harder, with less rewards.

In the second part of her interview with UBS, Brown discusses money, marriage and taking the reins of your financial life.

Are you ready to take charge of your financial future? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.