The Underpaid Women Of Instacart Are Fed Up

Photo: Instacart

The 130,000 gig workers who serve as personal shoppers for American grocery delivery platform Instacart are, according to the company’s own figures, overwhelmingly female. And of that 73-per cent-female workforce, an estimated 65,000 are working mums.

Those fact made it all the more galling when increasingly organised Shoppers (the term Instacart uses to refer to its gig workers) stumbled on a seemingly innocuous interview with the company’s chief communications officer, Dani Dudeck, on the subject of motherhood, work/life balance, and championing women’s issues in the workplace in a male-dominated industry.

Dudeck, who previously held similar roles at Myspace and Zynga, claims to have used her position to expand things like parental leave at her old jobs, and states that “being an advocate for a strong and supportive culture for women was very important to me.” She also claims to use Instacart around three times per week to keep fresh food in the house for her kids.

She also notes that, in addition to its contractor workforce, the vast majority of the company’s customers are women, too. “At Instacart, I find myself as the target demographic for our product—80% of our consumers are women, and 50% of those women are mums,” she told Authority Magazine.

To the many Shoppers who lose time with their own families to fulfil customer grocery orders, Dudeck’s interview struck them as remarkably tone-deaf. “You know damn well, Dani, that every extra batch we have to take, every extra hour of work we put in, comes at the expense of an hour we could be spending with our families,” a letter, signed by 200 Instacart Shoppers and posted to Medium this morning, reads. “It is our labour and our service that transforms a digital grocery list into the well-stocked fridges and pantries that our customers rely on to feed their families.”

While Dudeck is presumably not the individual most responsible for the reported pay cuts and de-prioritisation of in-app tipping Shoppers are struggling against, they’re left to wonder why an avowed champion of equality like her has not extended her advocacy to improve their working conditions.

“We share in none of the privileges of your executive salary, your posh home in the Marina, or your predictable pay and ability to protect time in your schedule for your kids,” the letter reads. “We are happy that your children enjoy the privilege of a mother with a schedule and salary that affords her the ability to read them stories, tuck them in, cook their favourite blueberry waffles and banana pancakes, and foster their brilliance. Do our families not deserve the same?

These same workers are planning a three-day strike early next month and today launched a website, Pay Your Workers.

We’ve reached out to Instacart for comment. The letter is reproduced in full below:

Dear Dani Dudeck (Instacart’s Chief Communications Officer),

We’ve recently come across your interview with Jessica Abo, in which you discussed what it is like to be a working executive mum, and how you’ve used your position as Chief Communications Officer, to champion other working women within your workplace. We would love to say that we are refreshed and encouraged by your presence as both a female executive and a working mother, especially amid the overwhelmingly male executive team. However, the fact of the matter is that during your tenure at Instacart, conditions for working mothers that are Shoppers for Instacart have deteriorated at an alarming pace.

Instacart’s Shopper workforce is overwhelmingly women. By Instacart’s own claims, 73% of its over 130,000 Shoppers are women. At over 95,000 women strong, Instacart Shoppers are easily one of the largest predominantly female contingent workforces nationally. We are an incredibly diverse group of women. Like you, we wear many hats. We are working professionals, students, caregivers, and over 65,000 of us, just like you, are mothers that want nothing less than the best for our families. All working mothers struggle in many unifying ways. We all walk a fine line, constantly trying to strike a balance between our work and our familial obligations and responsibilities.

While our struggles as working mothers may be strikingly similar in some ways to yours, Dani, they are inherently not the same. While you struggle to balance the needs of your kids with your workload, we are struggling to keep a roof over our children’s heads. While you struggle to step away from your family to make a work call, we are struggling to make ends meet. While you struggle with your weekly Sunday meal planning, we are struggling to put food on our own tables.

Shoppers are the backbone of Instacart. Every day we deliver so much more than just groceries. We deliver much-needed relief and support for the mothers that comprise more than 50% of your customer base. We love that we are the superheroes of everyday working mothers, saving them invaluable time and energy that they can reinvest in their families and in their careers. We are the smiling faces your customers know and love, and we are forever champions of working mothers. Collectively, Shoppers are both the backbone and face of Instacart. We are working women and mothers too. Why are our grievances less deserving of your advocacy? Do you feel we deserve less than the same right to financial security and the work-life balance that you feel entitled to?

Dani, you said you know how loud your voice can be at the company. So why are you constantly ignoring our grievances? How can you possibly reconcile your claims of advocacy, leading by example, and setting the tone for women at Instacart, with your inaction, sitting idly by while Instacart cuts pay for their predominantly female workforce? How dare you proclaim to be a champion of working mothers when your advocacy begins and ends within Instacart’s corporate walls? Your advocacy and voice mean nothing if you’re not using it to elevate ours.

It cut so deep when you boasted of your sacred phone-free family dinners. We would love the have the privilege and ability to turn our phones off and dedicate our unwavering attention to our families too. You know our ability to do so increasingly slips further and further out of reach, as we work significantly longer and harder to recover from our never-ending wage cuts. The small amounts of time we are afforded with our families are filled with extreme emotional distress due to financial anxiety and insecurity. We share in none of the privileges of your executive salary, your posh home in the Marina, or your predictable pay and ability to protect time in your schedule for your kids. We are happy that your children enjoy the privilege of a mother with a schedule and salary that affords her the ability to read them stories, tuck them in, cook their favourite blueberry waffles and banana pancakes, and foster their brilliance. Do our families not deserve the same?

Instacart has demonstrated at every opportunity possible that they do not respect us. Instacart’s perpetual pay cuts coupled with conditioning customers to provide low or no tip have materially and qualitatively impacted our lives, and by extension the relationships we have with our families in profoundly negative ways. You know damn well, Dani, that every extra batch we have to take, every extra hour of work we put in, comes at the expense of an hour we could be spending with our families. It is our labour and our service that transforms a digital grocery list into the well-stocked fridges and pantries that our customers rely on to feed their families. It is Instacart’s greed that has transformed what was once a livable and sustainable income, into a sub-minimum-wage job we can no longer rely on to feed our own families.

You have been notably quiet as we have pushed back against cut after cut to our pay. While you proudly proclaim yourself an “advocate for a strong and supportive culture for women” in their workplace, Instacart workers are busy advocating for ourselves by planning a protest from November 3–5th. So we ask you: where do your solidarity and advocacy lie? We are extending you this opportunity to regain your “authenticity and follow-through,” and live by your own guiding principle to “mean what you say and say what you mean.” We want nothing but the best for our families too. Will you stand with working mothers that are Shoppers in our demands to eliminate Instacart’s service fee and restore default tipping to at least 10%? Will you be an advocate for us?

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