Narrow the Gender Pay Gap? There Are Apps for That

Seven new apps designed to help women negotiate higher salaries, get better informed about pay differences in their fields and otherwise eliminate wage disparities between men and women were unveiled Tuesday at a White House event.

The event marked the culmination of a two-month “hackathon” in which tech firms and data geeks were encouraged to develop tools to address the gender pay gap, some of which used recently unlocked government data on incomes.

The prototypes included a virtual reality salary-negotiation simulator, an app measuring users’ “personal pay gap” and a game that puts users in the financial shoes of an expectant mother.

“I wish I had these tools to benefit my own career, and for the benefit of the businesses I’ve run,” said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who gave each developer feedback on their project. She doesn’t think companies set out to discriminate, but instead that both employers and employees often lack needed information in wage negotiations.

“These tools can provide better information to small businesses and empower individuals,” she said.

One of the presenters, Variable Labs, of Oakland, Calif., developed the negotiation simulator. The app for a Samsung Gear VR device intends to help users practice negotiation techniques and improve soft skills in an interview setting. A proof of concept was presented Tuesday.

“The environment is immersive,” said Variable co-founder Mario de la Vega. “It’s like being in the room with the interviewer. It allows the opportunity to rehearse, and through practice and rehearsal, you build confidence.”

The game would give users options for how to proceed at each step, and throw curve balls, such as a low offer or outright rejection of demands.

Another app, What’s My Pay Gap?, uses Commerce Department data to calculate a user’s personal gender pay gap based on characteristics such as race, occupation and age.

The app is based on figures from a tool the Commerce Department launched earlier this year, Making Income Data Accessible As a Service, or MIDAAS. It opens up income-related data from the American Community Survey, which previously was locked in two massive spreadsheets that would take academic researchers months to comb through.

The app aims to provide users answers to queries in a second.

For example, the app would reveal that a Hispanic woman between 24 and 35 years old with a bachelor’s degree and working at a for-profit company faces a gender pay gap of 68 cents for each $1 a similar man earns. By comparison, the average pay gap among all workers is 79 cents to the dollar.

The app “helps to uncover where inequality comes from,” said developer Adam Bonnifield, a presidential innovation fellow and founder of Washington analytics firmSpinnakr. “And when you think about things that lead to inequality in your life…you often make incorrect assumptions.” In developing the app, he learned career choice has a larger influence on the pay gap than education or race.

What’s My Pay Gap? and other apps giving users information about their own circumstances is important, Ms. Pritzker said, because “averages don’t help.”

“What you need is specific, hard data…to get each individual to equality,” she said.

The “Hack the Pay Gap” effort is one of the Obama administration’s most visible results from efforts to open government data. Other projects range from identifying barriers to better careers and education that face certain minority groups to using data to find businesses that could be successful exporters.

The Commerce Department has huge piles of data on everything from demographics to satellite images. But much of that information is either not accessible by the public or not in a user-friendly format.

“Big data equips us with new tools to solve old problems,” Ms. Pritzker said. “Yet big data has little value unless we make it accessible and consumable for our businesses and our people.”

Some critics say expanded dissemination of government data raises privacy concerns or could allow businesses to profit from taxpayer-funded surveys and information collection.

Mr. Bonnifield said the Pay Gap initiative will help shed light on the importance and possibilities of open data.

“When you crowdsource these efforts, they become more efficient and effective,” he said. These apps will take “open-data resources and translate them into real applications and products that solve a need.”



Narrow the Gender Pay Gap? There Are Apps for That