“I have always thought that transparency in every aspect of life leads to the most honest and accountable relationships,” says Molly Moon Neitzel. In this episode, the founder and owner of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream explains how “the secrecy around pay is extremely patriarchal and I think women and people of color have been oppressed and held down by secrecy around pay for centuries.”
Molly comes by her activism as a result of working in progressive politics at the start of her career. Then she opened up her first ice cream shop to “embody all of my progressive values.” Eight shops later, and more on the way, “I still feel humbled by the success that Molly Moon’s has had,” she says.
She shares with host Amy Elisa Jackson how she introduced the idea of pay transparency to her staff, how they accepted it (some didn’t), and how it has become a motivation for advancement and retention within the company. She concedes that some CEOs might be skeptical of the value of pay transparency. She has this to say to the skeptical business owners: “I would ask them what their turnover rate is and how much it costs them a year. I would ask them if they ever asked their employees how happy they are. I would ask them if their children worked for their company, if they would feel proud of the compensation package they were offering?”
In addition to pay transparency, Molly has championed workers’ rights and parental leave. “I will have never done enough,” says Molly Moon Neitzel. “I think it’s our duty as human beings to help each other as much as we can, and I will never be able to say that I’ve done enough.”
IN PURSUIT is hosted by Amy Elisa Jackson and is an original podcast from Glassdoor.
Click to listen now. Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Through honest and candid conversations, guests share how they navigate their careers through achievements, hurdles and heartbreaks encountered along the way. If you have a question or feedback for us, message us on Twitter (@glassdoor using the hashtag #InPursuitPod).
Amy Elisa Jackson: Welcome to IN PURSUIT, the Podcast from Glassdoor. I’m your host, Amy Elisa Jackson. In every episode, we share the real stories of extraordinary people navigating life’s most pivotal moments at the intersection of the personal and professional.
Would you ever feel comfortable sharing your exact salary with all of your coworkers? What if your boss did? That’s exactly what I’m about to ask Seattle ice cream mogul Molly Moon Neitzel. She’s the owner of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, a beloved Seattle institution of eight ice cream shops. The company’s mission is to make the world better one scoop at a time, and this isn’t an abstract notion from Molly. In fact, earlier this year, Molly announced that every employee would know what everyone else in the company was earning. Let’s find out why she did it, how her employees responded, and the path that led to this moment. Molly, welcome to the show.
Molly Moon Neitzel: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Total pay transparency seems like a really bold move. Why did you want this for Molly Moon Ice Cream?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Well, it’s actually not bold in my opinion. I have always thought that transparency in every aspect of life leads to the most honest and accountable relationships. And I think honesty and accountability between employers and employees is really important.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Now, was there time in your career where you discovered that you were being paid unfairly or were a bit surprised in the salary process?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Nope. My first job out of college was as a state employee for the State of Washington. I worked for the University of Washington Medicine raising money for medical research and all state employees pay is public record, so all of my coworkers knew what I made and I knew what all of my bosses in the big shots made. And it honestly created the ability for me as a 22-year-old straight out of college to get context for the working world and understand where I was and how I could get to a different place.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Having that kind of context because I think that’s really unique in terms of having a government job and having that sort of pay transparency, but having that exposure and that information, how did that set you up for success at the beginning of your career? What did it teach you or what doors did you feel like it might’ve opened?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Yeah, I think that pay transparency for young people just out of high school or college or entering the workforce for whatever reason is a really important way to understand where you are and where you can go. And I’ve seen that happen in the pay transparency policy at Molly Moon’s. It’s inspiring. I think if you see a paycheck that looks big and enticing and it’s for a job that you think you could learn how to do or you could do one day, then it inspires you and motivates you to get to the place where you get that job.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Pay transparency is also something that we refer to as it should be a right. We should all be paid fairly, we should all know what we should be paid, et cetera, but this extra component around inspiration is really interesting. How has it really worked out at Molly Moon? Are there some anecdotes or any stories that you can share of employees who have been inspired and have thought differently about their career trajectory because of this pay transparency policy?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Totally. Our company sells ice cream. So the people that we employ the most are people who scoop ice cream and put it in a cone or a cup and hand it to a happy customer. And that is not a job that most people can see themselves doing for the rest of their lives. And so I think when a lot of young people get jobs at Molly Moon’s, they think that there’s an expiration date on their employment with our company.
When we became completely pay transparent, I think a lot of our scoopers and shift leaders looked at that document and thought, “Wow, some of my bosses or my bosses bosses have family-supporting, house-buying, student-debt paying off kinds of salaries and they just work for an ice cream company. And if I do career pathways,” which is our program that helps any employee no matter where they work in our company learn how to be eligible for a promotion to the next level, “then I could get the next job. And if I’m in that job for six months, then I can do career pathways again and I can learn about being promoted to the next job.” We don’t have that many rungs on our corporate ladder, so I think it gave everybody in the company an ability to see themselves farther along and making much more significant paychecks in the not too distant future.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Has it helped with retention? You were talking about a lot of your employees tend to be younger and see an expiration date perhaps in their ice cream careers. Do you feel like it allows you to retain employees and build a longer career path for folks?
Molly Moon Neitzel: I definitely think that pay transparency can contribute to better retention. At Molly Moon’s we’ve had really wonderful retention for, I would say a decade because we do a lot of things to attempt to retain our employees. I think turnover is one of the highest costs for employers, and it’s not something that I think anybody really budgets in a way that is true to the facts. So we pay very competitive starting wages. We provide 100% of the health insurance premiums for really good insurance that includes dental and vision. We provide paid family leave. There are lots of things that I do so that our employees stick around.
Amy Elisa Jackson: You don’t really find too many entrepreneurs who are able to put this kind of attention and wonderful policy in place for their employees. Was this something that you always wanted to do from day one of starting Molly Moon’s or when was this really a priority for you as an entrepreneur?
Molly Moon Neitzel: The pay transparency piece?
Amy Elisa Jackson: Yes, the pay transparency piece, but also just creating a workplace that was more than just a 9:00 to 5:00 but really with somewhere that supported the employee as a full person.
Molly Moon Neitzel: Well, that is who I am as an individual at the core. Before I started Molly Moon’s, I was a political activist and I was raised in a very political family of Democrats in Idaho. So we were definitely in the minority and I’ve always felt like treating employees and workers with the dignity that the hard work everyone does is more important than the American legal and political system sort of tells us.
So when I was working in politics and I was getting kind of burnt out on political activism as a job, I decided that I would open an ice cream shop because I knew how ice cream shops run. I had worked in one in college. But I also thought it would be a good opportunity to walk my talk. I thought, “I know how an ice cream shop runs, I know how to run that kind of business and I’d like to see if I can put all of my progressive values around environmental sustainability and social justice and worker rights into a business plan and see if that business can still be profitable.” And I was kind of just testing my own politics in a micro way, when I wrote the business plan for Molly Moon’s in 2007 and eight.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Was there ever a moment along the way when you really doubted your vision?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Nope.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I love it. Unapologetic no. I hear that, sister. Molly, not all of your employees welcomed the idea of pay transparency at first. So you had company meetings and you had coffee with every single employee. Over 80 coffee dates in six days by your reckoning. What were they saying to you in those meetings and how did you help them come around to embrace pay transparency?
Molly Moon Neitzel: So about a year and a half ago in early 2018, I was in a meeting with the leadership of our company and I said, “I want to go pay transparent.” And our head chef, in particular, looked at me like I was crazy and said, “we can’t.” So that was surprising to me and I ended up talking to our head chef and our area managers and kind of the leaders of our operations team who were all like, “No, we have to fix the pay inequities in our company before we publish pay transparency.” And the inequities were all coming from tipping culture. And tips had started to become so substantial in terms of the total income of our front of house employees, that it was really unfair between front of house and back of house. It was really unfair between openers and closers. It was really unfair between folks who worked in Redmond, Washington and Seattle, Washington, who worked at a fancy high-end mall or who worked in Columbia City, a smaller neighborhood. And we all came to the realization in one meeting that, “Wow, we have a much bigger challenge ahead of us. It’s not just pay transparency and communicating about why we’re doing that and publishing a document. We have to get rid of tips.”
Amy Elisa Jackson: We’ll be back in a moment after this from Glassdoor.
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Amy Elisa Jackson: Now back to my conversation with Molly Moon.
Molly Moon Neitzel: It’s my responsibility as an employer and as someone running a company to pay my workers wages. It’s not my customer’s responsibility to decide how much they should earn this hour.
Amy Elisa Jackson: What was the journey like uncovering this information about the history of tipping, about what it probably meant for your employees and then sharing this insight with them? I would imagine it brought you much closer to your employees and almost an enlightening process for everyone involved.
Molly Moon Neitzel: It was definitely enlightening. After we made the decision that we just needed to get rid of tips, we looked at how much money tips was making up in terms of income for our employees. We decided on a price increase to all of our product that could cover the lost tips, but spread it out in an equitable way. We rewrote the compensation structure for our entire company and we’re able to decide a wage for front of house employees and back of house employees, that we thought was truly what sort of the market could afford to pay, and what we as a company could afford to pay, and what we thought our employees would be happy and willing to work for. And where we landed was that starting jobs for scoopers with no experience, delivery drivers with no experience, and ice cream makers with no experience, that starting wage should be $18 an hour. And that’s the lowest wage in our company today.
Then the next rung is folks we call shift leaders or production leads or lead delivery drivers. And those folks all start at $23.50 an hour. And then the rung goes up from there. So we had about 88 employees at this time.
I had a half-hour coffee with every employee and we gave them a spreadsheet that said, “Here’s what you’ve made in the last year, broken out by pay period.” And I explained why we wanted to eliminate tipping. And I think out of the 88 coffees, I had three people who at the end of our coffee date didn’t like the idea.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Wow. Only three?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Yeah. A lot of them came into the room educated enough that they were sort of all ready on board with the idea. A lot of them came in with a lot of questions and hesitation that we were able to iron out in a personal one-on-one conversation. And yeah, I think three people left kind of like, “This isn’t going to work. I don’t think I’m going to stay here.”
Amy Elisa Jackson: What was the best response that you got? What was the response that just warms your heart and makes you really smile because you put in a lot of work behind this policy?
Molly Moon Neitzel: I mean, the best response was just people thanking me for how much time we had put into it as a company. They could tell by the individual spreadsheet that was just about them, and all of the communication we had done leading up to these coffee dates, that we had spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we protected their wages and their ability to earn income, and their ability to move forward in their career if they wanted to stay at Molly Moon’s. I did receive a ton of appreciation for that and acknowledgment that we are working on their behalf and in partnership with them. And I think most of the moon crew, as we call them, feel like we do have each other’s backs as employers and employees.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I love it. The Moon crew, I’m so here for that.
According to Time Magazine, 41% of private companies discouraged discussing salary information and 25% explicitly prohibit discussing it. So most CEOs would say, “No way, we’re not doing this. I don’t care what Molly’s talking about. We just can’t do it.” What would you say to those company owners and those CEOs who think pay transparency just won’t work?
Molly Moon Neitzel: I would ask them what their turnover rate is and how much it costs them a year. I would ask them if they ever ask their employees how happy they are, which I do every 28 days. I would ask them if their children worked for their company, if they would feel proud of the compensation package they were offering.
Amy Elisa Jackson: When you survey your employees every 28 days or when you’re getting feedback, what are you doing with that feedback? How do you spend time with it as an entrepreneur, as a business owner? What’s the process that you’re going through to read that feedback and really digest it?
Molly Moon Neitzel: I think a lot of people have probably heard of Net Promoter Scores. It’s a way that companies measure customer happiness usually. It’s sort of that basic question, “Would you recommend this product to a friend or family member?” And you answer on a scale of one to 10. We do an employee Net Promoter Score survey every 28 days in our company, and we ask every employee, “Would you recommend this job to a friend or family member? And they answer on a scale of one to 10 and then they have an opportunity to tell us anything else they’d like us to know in a text box.
All of that data gets put together every 28 days and I look at an employee happiness report for every financial period. I take it really seriously. I look at it by store, I look at it by role in the company. I have asked for it to be broken down by race and ethnicity before, and I ask our operations team to respond to any of the comments that are less than happy. I use all of those comments and that general data to know if I’m doing a good job and if we’re doing a good job.
Amy Elisa Jackson: It’s so good to hear you say that, especially as a small business owner. As you probably know, Glassdoor, our mission is to help people find a job and company that they love. And we were built on this idea of transparency around what it’s like to work at a particular company, what you’ll be paid at that company. And we really value the employee reviews. So hearing that a small business owner like yourself values it as well and doesn’t take that kind of feedback for granted, just it means a lot because the closer and closer we get to transparency and to taking the shroud around salary and around pay and around what it’s like to work at a particular company, the better off we’ll all be.
Molly Moon Neitzel: Honestly, for me, it’s made me a much better and I think more confident CEO. Because five years ago before we did NPS surveys, I had a gut feeling that we were doing the right thing. But now I know we’re doing the right thing and I know when we’re messing up because they tell us and then we try to fix it.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Looking back on, especially the last 18 months, as you’ve really been putting this pay transparency policy in place, what do you wish someone would have told you about the ups and the downs around rolling this policy out at Molly Moon? Any advice that you wish you had received?
Molly Moon Neitzel: No. I mean, I think I’m a little bit of a weird employer in that I don’t belong to chambers of commerce. I don’t read the trade magazines. I don’t tend to listen to advice from other CEOs, not because I don’t want to learn. I am very curious and constantly wanting to learn, but over the last decade I’ve mostly received advice from other CEOs and business leaders about how to save money at the expense of my employees.
I guess the advice I would want to give anyone considering pay transparency as an employer is talk to your team. Ask them what would feel good about the program and what wouldn’t feel good. People can be very private about the money they make. And that did come up in conversations with a few of the men who work for me, who were really uncomfortable with what people made.
I did see interestingly enough, a little bit of a break about like women being more comfortable knowing what other people make and knowing that other people would know what they made than men. The women that were a little hesitant about it and gave me some negative feedback, it was because their dads had influence on that negative perception. And I thought that was really interesting. I think honestly the secrecy around pay is extremely patriarchal, and I think women and people of color have been oppressed and held down by secrecy around pay for centuries, and transparency is only good for the people who don’t currently have as much power as white men.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Absolutely. I think the secrecy around pay and salary can be used by companies who don’t want to pay equally, can be used by individuals who don’t want you to know how much they get paid or they don’t want you to feel like you’re getting paid more than they are, et cetera. It’s absolutely a power dynamic and an issue that can only be improved if it’s brought out into the light, but you are right. A lot of people benefit from this shroud of secrecy around salary.
Molly Moon Neitzel: Yeah.
Amy Elisa Jackson: When you look back at your career, what has surprised you the most about it, your journey so far?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Well, I never thought I would be on a podcast with a big company like Glassdoor talking about things I’m doing. I didn’t expect to build a company like Molly Moon’s is becoming. The biggest surprise has actually been our success. And I’m not surprised by it now because I’ve kind of gotten used to it and that’s amazing. I still feel humbled by the success that Molly Moon’s has had, but in the beginning it was a little shocking. I just had planned to open this one ice cream shop and sort of embody all of my progressive values in this one neighborhood ice cream shop.
Amy Elisa Jackson: You’ve championed other causes like paid family leave, offering 12 weeks of full-paid leave for employees who give birth, foster or adopt a child. You even put this into practice with both daughters by taking 13 weeks of maternity leave. What did leave really teach you about being a better leader?
Molly Moon Neitzel: It wasn’t until I took maternity leave with my eldest daughter that I realized I needed to formalize a policy for our company. So that was huge. I think if I hadn’t had my daughter February when I had her, my company wouldn’t have had a plan in place when my assistant Miranda had her daughter. And I wouldn’t have felt like I was on sure footing to give everyone the benefit that now is so clear to me everyone needs, and dads too. That greatly informed our policies and lots of my own life experiences as a mom now have kept the fire burning under me in terms of advocating and lobbying for things that benefit working parents.
Amy Elisa Jackson: What’s the feedback you’ve received from the local business community? I know you’re not a part of the chamber of commerce and you are blazing your own trail, but what has the conversation been like with the other retail owners or food and beverage owners that you do come into contact with in regards to your policies and how you’re really pushing for change?
Molly Moon Neitzel: My opinions are not in the majority amongst the small business community. And I have lots of friends that are small business owners because you meet each other and you become friends and I respect all of them a great deal. I’ve learned from a handful of women in the small business community in Seattle so much, but I’ve also lost friendships over our political divides around paid sick leave and the minimum wage. And it’s honestly sort of heartbreaking to know that not all business owners sort of see the value in taking care of employees with comp and benefits that give them, in my opinion, the appropriate response to how hard they work for our businesses.
Amy Elisa Jackson: It can be heartbreaking and just disappointing. What do you do on those days when it feels lonely and it feels like, okay, you’re fighting for something you believe in so much, but you have the naysayers on your right and your left. How do you pick yourself up on those days?
Molly Moon Neitzel: Well, I mean, playing with my daughters is pretty great and very rewarding and spending time with my husband and my family. But honestly, like I was having a little bit of a down thought train today about a political issue. And so I called a friend of mine who I wasn’t maybe seeing exactly eye-to-eye on and talked it out in hopes of convincing her to sort of see things from my perspective on this particular political issue. And I think I made progress and that made me hopeful for what she and I can do together in the future. That’s what keeps me going.
Amy Elisa Jackson: I was reading through your blog and one of the questions that you asked yourself at the end of last year is, “Have I done enough?” So Molly, have you? Do you feel like you’re still IN PURSUIT of something to come?
Molly Moon Neitzel: I have never done enough. I think it’s our duty as human beings to help each other as much as we can and I will never be able to say that I’ve done enough.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Wonderful. Thank you so much Molly, for taking the time to talk to us here at Glassdoor. We are thrilled not only to have you on the podcast, but also to be inspired by your story. So thank you so much.
Molly Moon Neitzel: Thank you for having me.
Amy Elisa Jackson: Thank you for listening to IN PURSUIT, the podcast from Glassdoor. This episode was produced by Lee Schneider and Alison Sullivan, music by Epidemic Sound, production by Red Cub Agency. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Google Play. Leave us a comment or reach out on social to let us know what you think. I’m Amy Elisa Jackson, and this is IN PURSUIT.
Amy Elisa Jackson