Women, Pay and Sister Pie

By: SMSBF writer, Monica Plawecki

In recent articles, we’ve explored the importance of a just wage, focusing specifically on how a living wage allows workers to fully participate in and deepen connections within their community.
We also looked at a handful of small businesses in Detroit that have embraced Triple Bottom Line (3BL) business practices that empower employees to transform their communities.

Given our current economic context, where women are still earning just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, it would be regrettable to overlook the importance of combating gender pay inequality. Certainly, we’ve come to understand that 3BL business practices and an emphasis on a living wage are good for business, employees, and the environment alike, but how does gender pay equity fit into the picture?

Research suggests that business practices that empower women, such as reducing wage inequalities, focusing on developing women’s skills, and removing barriers to workplace advancement, are critical to both sustainability and businesses’ long-term success. The Stanford Social Innovation Review goes so far as to suggest that “eliminating gender inequities…is equally material to companies’ competitiveness and sustainability.” (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

Recognizing that March is Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at one form of inequality women face today–pay inequality–and its impact on working women. Specifically, what does the gender pay gap look like in Detroit? We’ll also spotlight one of the small businesses committed to empowering its all-female staff with 3BL business practices.

An Overview of National Gender Pay Inequality (all data from Institute for Women’s Policy Research)

First, what is the current state of gender inequality in the United States? Let’s take a look at the most recent statistics available to us.

● In 2018, women in the U.S. earned 18% less than what men earned
● The gender pay gap is measurable in every occupation (for which comparable data is available)
● The pay gap is intersectional–meaning, inequality is more pronounced for women of color
● At the current rate, gender parity will not be achieved until 2059–and not until 2130 for Black women and 2224 for Hispanic women

All of that taken into consideration, how do women in Detroit fare in comparison to national statistics? There is, truthfully, competing evidence on the topic. One study from Get Response, a marketing platform, from May 2019 suggests that of the 51 largest U.S. cities by population, “Detroit has the lowest wage gap and highest percentage of women in three industries [business, management, and sales; computer, engineering, math and science; and healthcare].” The study found that the rate of gender pay inequality in Detroit sits at 12.24%, falling below the national average (Detroit Free Press).

Still, another study by Magnify Money from March 2019 found that Metro Detroit women fare much worse than the more recent study would suggest. Taking into account factors such as unemployment, parental leave policies, and percentage of female business owners, the study ranked Metro Detroit women next to last and found that they had fewer economic opportunities compared with those of other metro areas (Detroit Free Press).

Regardless, both studies allow us to draw the same underlying conclusion: the gender pay gap is still very much present in Metro Detroit. Certainly, there are several factors contributing to this inequality, including occupational gender segregation; as a result, there is not one silver bullet to solve the nationwide problem.

However, it’s clear that committing to providing just wages for all workers, embracing 3BL business practices, and ensuring ethical labor practices, such as fair hiring policies, family-friendly HR initiatives (like paid maternal and paternal leave), and increased transparency in the workplace, are necessary steps in addressing the issue.

Sister Pie’s Recipe for Success with a 3BL Approach
While women are claiming a significantly smaller slice of the economic pie, Sister Pie, a Detroit- based bakery, is committed to paying its staff above-average wages and–as the name suggests— serving delicious slices of homemade pie.

Founded by Lisa Ludwinski in 2015, the woman-owned business in Detroit’s West Village has embraced 3BL business practices, evident in its mission to “serve food, our neighborhood, and each other.” The bakery is staffed entirely by women, and Ludwinski “can’t really imagine going back to a workplace that’s not all women. It’s like the best.” (The New York Times)

Their commitment to their employees, the community, and minimizing their environmental impact is enshrined in their mission statement, a portion of which reads: Sister Pie celebrates the seasons of Michigan through pie, cookies, breakfast, and lunch. Together we are a triple-bottom-line business, working to support our employees, our environment, and our economy. (Sister Pie)

Just as customers savor Sister Pie’s delectable baked goods, the bakery’s employees also reap the sweet rewards of success. Ludwinski has stated a commitment to investing profits back into her business with the goal of adopting more sustainable business practices and implementing employee incentives, such as wage raises, internal promotions, and offering paid sick time and health insurance, effectively to “take the profit and put it back to the people.” (The New York Times).

The bakery is also committed to socially just causes that empower women, particularly young women. In 2019, Sister Pie announced a year-long partnership with Alternatives for Girls, a nonprofit that provides support and mentoring for high-risk girls. (Next City)

The community undeniably benefits from Sister Pie’s community-focused efforts as well. The bakery offers pie-making classes, neighborhood discounts, and holds a monthly meeting with local businesses. There’s also a “Pie It Forward” wall–that is, customers can purchase a slice of pie for a future customer who may be new to the bakery or may not be able to afford a slice. In addition, Ludwinski has stated that helping lower the city’s unemployment rate was a primary factor in her decision to locate her bakery in Detroit, and she seeks to hire Detroiters, especially neighborhood residents, to staff her establishment (Sister Pie).

Though Sister Pie is just one of many women-owned businesses in Detroit, as well as one of many small businesses committed to a 3BL business approach, it perfectly models the opportunities afforded when companies prioritize their social responsibilities: opportunities for the Detroit community, for women in the workplace, and for customers, who can enjoy a slice of homemade pie knowing their purchase supports the bakery’s big-hearted mission.

Without a doubt, Sister Pie sets an example for female entrepreneurs and small businesses alike in cultivating a culture focused on lifting people and the community through providing living wages, adopting sustainable business practices, promoting from within, and–of course–a mission to empower women.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research
Detroit gender pay gap studies:
Detroit Free Press
The New York Times
Next City
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Sister Pie Book

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