Can an App Really Close the Pay Gap Between Men and Women?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 10 2012 4:28 PM

Can an App Really Close the Pay Gap Between Men and Women?

Senior adviser and assistant to the president Valerie Jarrett makes opening remarks at a Women in Finance Symposium focusing on institutional investment.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the White House announced a project called the Equal Pay Phone App Challenge. The competition’s goal: create an app that uses labor data and negotiation resources to raise awareness about the wage gap and aid women in pay negotiations.  According to senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the challenge is an invitation to “software developers to help women ensure that they’re being paid fairly—which in turn will help restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.”

When I first found out about the “App Challenge,” I reacted much like a Politco reader who bluntly asked in the comments section: “is this a joke? A satire piece?” The administration’s suggestion that an application could help address pay inequity seemed ridiculous and, to some extent, it seemed to trivialize the issue.


However, after reviewing the goals of the competition, one of which is to provide greater access to pay data, I realized even if this app does not have a huge impact, it’s not an altogether terrible idea.

In late August, I was coming up on a year at my current job. I knew that employees generally receive a raise at the end of a year and that I was getting promoted. However, I had no idea what other people at my level were making, and when the director of HR invited me into her office to talk about the promotion, I was a blushing, head-nodding, mess. The only question I managed to ask was if the salary I was offered was in the normal range for program associates. I was assured that it was, but I did not have the data to verify this, nor did I press for more.

I am far from the only woman who has found herself ready to negotiate but unsure of how much to ask for. And, while I have since discovered that there is some salary information available on sites like and, an app that made this data easy to access and made it better known that such data exists could arm women with the information they need to successfully negotiate raises.

Hannah Riley Bowles, an associate professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has done several studies on compensation negotiations. She found that in "industries in which salary standards were ambiguous, women accepted salaries that were ten percent lower on average than did the men.” When women do not know what to ask for, they set less ambitious negotiation goals and, as a result, make less money.

Will this application close the wage gap? Absolutely not. But it could be useful next time I find myself in the hot seat. And, at the very least, it shows that though the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass in Congress in 2010, the administration has not forgotten about the issue; it is a creative way to reach out to private industry developers; and it raises awareness about the ongoing efforts to achieve equal pay for equal work.

Caroline Esser is a program associate at the New America Foundation.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.