Why LUNA Bar Donated $718,000 to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team: A Conversation with Ritu Mathur

On April 2, 2019,  LUNA Bar announced that for Equal Pay Day it was going to donate $718,000 to the US National Women’s Soccer Team Player’s Association, after discovering that the US Women’s team are paid $31,250 less per player for making the World Cup team. Ritu Mathur (above, top left), the Director of Brand Marketing at LUNA, spearheaded the initiative to help raise awareness of the disparity in equal pay around the world: In the U.S. women make 80 cents to a man’s dollar. And, as Mathur says. “It’s a lot worse for women of color.” 

Mathur recently got back from Paris, where LUNA pulled together a panel of powerhouses — Catt Sadler, Venus Williams, Julie Foudy, Hilary Knight — at the Eiffel Tower to discuss the future of equality, while across town, the USWNT was racking up wins against Spain and Sweden at the FIFA World Cup. She spoke to the Riveter about LUNA’s game-changing wage gap campaign.

Tricia Romano: What drove you and the team at Luna Bar to make such a huge donation to the U.S. Women’s National Team?

Ritu Mather: When you’re selected to a World Cup team, you receive a roster bonus. Each of the 23 players received a dollar sum, and the men’s sum was different then what the women were getting. It just felt really shocking to us and very surprising, because it’s literally the same thing: You’re either chosen for the men’s team or you’re chosen to the women’s team. Why should that payout and that bonus be different? So what we chose to do is to close that gap between what the men earned as a roster bonus and what the women earned. We gave each of the 23 players the difference between what the men make and what the women make and then ended up being just shy of $720,000.

TR:  And it’s not just a financial gap the women’s team experiences; they also don’t have equitable working conditions, right? The men play on grass while the women play on artificial turf, which causes more injuries. 

RM: I’m not a soccer player myself, but from the conversations that I’ve had with some of the members of the team it’s hard on the body to play on turf. It’s not a good surface. It was never even a topic of conversation when it came to the men’s teams and the World Cup for men. It’s just so unfair and shocking to everyone, I think. It was in the news quite a bit and ever since then we’ve been kind of following their journey.

TR: What was the response of the soccer team when you announced you were going to close the pay gap for them?

RM: It was honestly beyond anything that we could imagine. It was really overwhelming in a hugely positive way and it was just awesome to see how much it resonated, not just with consumers, but with sports media, with the general media, with people who started raising the issue: Where are the organizations that are related to soccer that say they are supporting this sport? Why are they not taking this on? Why are they not fixing these issues? It was just creating this conversation that hadn’t been happening before and that honestly has been something that I think one of the best parts of his campaign is just really raising that awareness and having people ask you questions. Because when you get the public opinion behind a topic, that’s when you can really implement some change.

Ritu (center) at the USWNT vs. Belgium Game in Los Angeles with USWNT Players Megan Rapinoe, Kelly O’Hara and former player Meghan Klingenberg, as well as celebrity representatives from Time’s Up, Clif Bar Co-CEOs Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson, and USWNT Players Association Executive Director Becca Roux. 

TR: Can you talk a little bit about some of the other things that LUNA does as a company in terms of advancing equity for women?

RM: One of our co-founders is a really passionate artist and she had the foresight to recognize that women’s voices and stories are not being told in Hollywood to the same degree that men’s voices and their perspectives are being told. She really wanted to see if you could change that, so we created a film festival called LUNA Fest. We have a program of about 90 minutes worth of short films that are directed by women and about women, about the issues that they care about, about the stories that they want to tell. We use it as a nonprofit piece of content: Let’s say you run a women’s nonprofit and you want to host a fundraiser and raise money for your organization, you can host a LUNA Fest screening. We will give you the film. We will give you marketing materials and help you advertise for this event. We’ll give you bars, help you create posters, things like that. And any proceeds are yours to keep to help towards your fundraising, for your organization. There have been 180 to 200 screenings all over the country and in a few different countries internationally as well. We’ve raised millions of dollars for these women’s nonprofits.

RW: There’s also a mountain-biking team that we started over 18 years ago. One of our founders, Gary, is very big into cycling and he just saw there was this big discrepancy between men’s and women’s mountain bike teams and wanted to do something about it, so we created a female pro mountain biking team and made sure that they were paid the same as the men’s team. We gave them support in terms of a team manager, mechanics, and the other things that the men have always gotten. The team’s been very successful through the years.

TR: Have you found that people are still not aware of how giant of a gap there is in terms of equal pay for women and men? Not just in sports, but for working women?

RM: I think there’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of myths out there across the board when it comes to equal pay. One of the things that I think we can do as a brand that’s tackling this issue is to provide information and straight facts around this topic and this issue. Yes, there is a wage gap. Yes, there are many factors. But there are a lot of myths out there, such as the idea that women choose careers that are lower-paying. Of course, those women are going to get paid less on average than men, but that’s not actually the issue. It’s much more nuanced than that. We’re talking about the fact that for the same job women are, on average, paid less.

TR: Some critics think the women’s team shouldn’t be paid as much as the men’s team because their ratings don’t compare. How would you respond to that?

RM: It’s not apples to apples. I think that when you talk about revenue and return on investment, you have to talk about that initial investment. I don’t think that there’s been a fair and equitable investment between men’s and women’s sports in general, and definitely not for soccer. Men’s sports have been cultivated for decades and women’s sports haven’t had that same benefit. I don’t think you can say that women can’t deliver the same revenue unless you give that same timeline and that runway and the investment to prove themselves out.

TR: Thinking beyond soccer, can you speak to the progress the United States has made so far in closing the wage gap?

RM: On average, the gap is about 20 cents to the dollar and it’s a lot worse for women of color. It hasn’t moved a ton in the past few years. As far as I know, the forecasts are not super promising. It still seems like it’s going to be many years before that gap narrows. But even knowing those grim statistics, I think what we’ve been trying to do is give the everyday woman the tools to try to help her make a difference in her own life. In the past few years, we’ve been doing a lot of work for equal pay and part of that was working with organizations like the AAUW who are really doing awesome work in trying to create wage negotiation workshops so women can learn how to better negotiate. We helped them to develop an online tool so that women anywhere can learn how to improve their negotiation skills. We can equip women to be better prepared for those negotiations, so they can then start to close that gap in their own lives and feel like they’re able to make a difference and make an impact and have confidence when they’re in those situations.

TR: Is there anything that the average American man or woman do?

RM: As far as men go, I think there’s definitely a role for them to play. Raising awareness, as I mentioned before — just clearing up some of those myths. And then obviously legislation and all of those things are important as well. But, again, where all of us can make a difference is in influencing public opinion and raising awareness so that when and if it does become a legislative thing, that people are behind it.

TR: So what’s next for LUNA and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team?

Ritu: That’s a question we’re talking about a lot right now. It’s hard because we’ve been literally working 24/7 to support the team through the World Cup and to have the conversations that we’ve been having right now. But with the Olympics next year, we’re hopeful this team will continue to do what they’re doing and be as successful as they’ve been. They have a lot of fight still in terms of equality, but we want to be there with them.

Writer and editor Tricia Romano is the former editor-in-chief of the Stranger. She has been a staff writer at the Seattle Times and columnist for the Village Voice. She is currently working an oral history about the Village Voice for Public Affairs. You can also find her at Patreon.