Technological innovation has addressed some of the largest problems in the world over the years. We have focused our collective computing intelligence on a great many issues, ranging from education to environmental protection. However, I do not normally associate an intentional combination of 1s and 0s with solutions to issues such as sexism, racism, and homophobia. However, this past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to think about how to combine my vocation and my passion to address a nagging social problem that politicians, educators, and researchers have yet to fully solve. My goal was to hack the pay gap.
More precisely, I was part of a team of diverse individuals that came together as part of The Breaking the Mold Hackathon. The event, which was organized by the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Sloan Women in Management, was designed to “hack” unconscious bias in many different forms and generate real world solutions beyond simply discussing issues and concerns. Although the event was modeled on more traditional hackathons, which are typically more tech-centered, and tasked with developing technology-based solutions, this event took a slightly different and more structured path towards solutions.
I prepared for the event by broadening my general knowledge and prior experience exploring the gender pay gap from a feminist multicultural perspective, and looking to business and industry for common narratives and responses to the problem. Several significant solutions, including pay transparency, the elimination of negotiation during the offer process, and providing women with negotiation training, have all been proposed and attempted in recent years by large and small companies and organizations. They all offer a partial solution, but do not necessarily get to the heart of the problem, namely the unconscious bias that causes employers to pay women less for the same work in the first place.
Our group chose to re-conceptualize the gender pay gap as a compensation equity gap. This notion better takes into account not only significant differences in base salary, but also benefits, promotions, retirement packages, bonuses, and other aspects of compensation that traditionally disadvantage women. We developed a software platform that would allow organizational leaders to assess their workforce and directly target the actions and environment within their organizations to effect real change. This change would become a priority within the organization by linking it to the very compensation of organizational leaders themselves.
The idea generation, development, and implementation process was fast-paced, buoyed by diverse perspectives from participants in various fields and industries, and resulted in some highly innovative thinking. Within higher education especially, we spend a great deal of time discussing problems, convening meetings and forming committees, and doing research. All of these pieces are crucial to the process of social change, but they are only as important as the priority that is placed on action.
The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1964. We have been discussing these discrepancies for over 50 years, and have moved the needle very little. This event was an important reminder that talking will only get you so far. Not only are we capable of acting, building, creating, and changing, but we must do so. We must continue to push ourselves to think about how we can hack the problems that plague us and strive to create real, tangible change in the process. Thus, my challenge to each of you is to think about how you can move from discussing to hacking!