If you weren’t surprised by the revelation that a survey found nearly 50% of men believe the gender pay gap is “made up,” the kind of emails people have been sending to local ice cream chain Molly Moon’s won’t shock you either.
“We’ve received emails with people saying they’ll no longer be customers of ours because of our stance on pay transparency citing that women simply need to work harder and to stop whining,” Katie Cole, marketing director at the company, says.
What are the emailers upset about? The fact that founder and CEO Molly Moon Neitzel announced on April 2, Equal Pay Day, that the company had officially become pay transparent.
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The policy means that every one of the roughly 80 to 170 (over the summer) employees can now access information on the wages of everyone in the company, from Moon Neitzel herself to the part-time ice cream scooper. A spreadsheet, published on the company’s internal website, details all wages, as well as employees’ worked hours and bonuses. The company hopes it is another step in the direction of pay equity.
“I don’t think anyone can be paid fairly if they don’t know the context in which they’re being paid,” Moon Neitzel says. “Employees in every industry, food, and beverage included need to know what everyone around them is making to be able to go to their manager and say what they want to have happen in their own careers.”
According to equal pay advocates and research, wage transparency can be one device in the toolbox of closing or narrowing the gender pay gap, which women of color in the US experience most severely. A study has also shown it can also increase the number of women being hired and promoted, and that it had a greater effect on the wages of low and intermediate level employees.
Moon Neitzel knew this. She’d been thinking about wage transparency for years. About a year ago, she asked her leadership team: Can we make this happen?
“And they all kind of said, hm, that would be really difficult, because, with the way that tipping has evolved in our company, there have been huge inequities between different roles in our company,” Moon Neitzel says. Ice cream makers and even shift leaders were making less than the no-experience, entry-level scoopers, who worked mostly during high-tipping hours.
Early this year, after an eight-month planning process during which Moon Neitzel had a “coffee date” with 73 full-time, year-round employees, the company attempted to iron out the inequities of the “broken system” by eliminating tipping, increasing prices slightly and boosting wages of shop managers and head chefs. There were no raises in the Molly Moon HQ, which recently moved from the Odd Fellows building to office space on 12th, near co-working space The Riveter.
The change will be most significant to the people working in the company’s seven shops in the Seattle area.
Over at Molly Moon’s E Pine shop, manager Louisa Greenaway, getting ready to open for the day, says she’s looked up the wage of other shop managers, just out of curiosity. She says she’s also been fielding some questions from her staff about it — they are intrigued. “As with anything in life,” she says, “Knowledge is power.”
Knowledge, of course, only goes so far. The reasons for the persisting pay gap are systemic. Obstacles include the fact that men are promoted on “future potential,” while women are on past performance; or that women are less likely to negotiate starting salaries, ask for a raise or promotion, and are more likely to face negative repercussions when they do. Pay transparency is not the panacea — just because in closing the pay gap, there isn’t one.
Still, the team believes it’s a step in the right direction to give people the tools to advocate for themselves and ask for the same raise someone else is getting.
“It also shows people a pathway up in the company,” says Eric Anderson, one of two Molly Moon’s area managers. “I started scooping ice cream here one summer when we had one shop, and I’m still here ten years later. To me, it was a total surprise that I could grow with this company. It’s so exciting for a lot of those kids to know that there’s a place to go, that they can grow their career here, that you don’t need to leave and work for Amazon to have a professional life working for us.”
Implementing pay transparency has put Molly Moon’s in the company of a small group of businesses who have implemented similar transparency policies including Whole Foods or the start-up Buffer. They are a small minority, however. According to a 2017 survey, only 17% of private companies practice pay transparency, and the practice is not common in Seattle or on the Hill. Moon Neitzel, who’s lived on the Hill for two decades, is hoping that she can push for change through leading by example.
“A lot of my friends are business owners who have business here on the hill,” she says. “I’m hoping that once we’ve been pay transparent for a while, my friends will see that it’s not terrible, that I’m benefiting from it, that my team is happier and more bought-in, that we’ll have lower turnover, and so they will be more inclined to try it in their companies. I also think my employees, many of whom live here or go out here, will definitely be talking about this. It would be great if they were encouraging their friends to ask for more transparency throughout the Capitol Hill business community.”