For most people, when the topic of income inequality or the wage gap comes up, “fun” is not a word they would use to describe the topic. Yet, Luna Malbroux, a diversity educator by day and a comedian by night, found a way to not only make the touchy subjects accessible, but also fun. Understanding that there are very few aspects of daily life in the western world that are not touched by technology, Malbroux decided to do the one thing she couldn’t do – make an app for that.
She was selected to participate in this year’s Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco. Comedy Hack Day is put on by Cultivated Wit, a company that believes “humor combined with slick design and a creative use of technology can make complicated ideas more understandable and products more fun.” Their comedy hackathon brings together the unlikely combination of comedians, developers and designers to build “hilarious tech” that can change the world.
This year’s grand prize winner was Malbroux’s Equipay, an app that allows users to split the costs of meals and other group charges fairly – very fairly. Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Equipay allows a group to split the cost of a meal in accordance with gender and racial income inequalities. When it’s time to pay the bill, they use the app to select the group of friends that are present and split the bill based on what each person makes in their profession by using what they call “affirmative fractions.”
During the presentation, Malbroux showed how Graham, a white male, could split the bill for a $350 meal in San Francisco with five other friends. In the first scenario, Graham’s friends included a black woman and an Asian man. Graham’s share of the bill was $75.00, but his Asian male friend had to pay $89.00, because statistics show that Asian men in tech make 22 percent more than white men. As for the black woman? Her share was the lowest at $51.00 representing the reality that black women make 64 cents for every dollar a white man makes. When Graham goes out with a group of friends that are about as diverse as this year’s group of Oscar nominees, a surcharge is added. He can even share his purchase on social media to show that he is a social justice ally.
In an interview with Care 2, Malbroux explained that while the app was developed with a humorous view of a serious subject, she feels that it can be useful in the real world. This is why they are developing the app with hopes to launch it in the coming months. “I hope that this, more than anything, starts a discussion and helps people to start thinking a little bit differently about how we can use more technology and more innovation to address inequality and wage inequality,” she said.
The process of development was also a great lesson in the power of diversity. The assembled team consisted of designers Star Zagofsky and Brian Carter, comedians George Chen and Graham Starr, and developers Rohan Dhaimade and Franklin Ho. “We had not only different ethnicities in the group, but different skill sets. So I think that’s what made it so great and so funny is because we had so many different and diverse people working on it and I think that’s a prime example of why we need more diversity in tech,” Malbroux said.
After ideas were pitched on the first night of the hackathon, attendees met and greeted each other to create the teams. Malbroux didn’t need to convince anyone to help her with the idea because her team members “were already open to figuring out how to solve inequality in a fun and humorous way.” They started work that Friday night and worked through Saturday before presenting the app on stage that Sunday.
The idea was influenced by her work as a diversity trainer for educators and communities. She has spent her career exploring the topics of identity and intersectionality and what it means to be a person in this world. She also feels that her experience as a black woman gives her a greater understanding of how the complexities of identity factors into every aspect of life, including income inequality and the wage gap.
The Equipay team is now fine tuning the app to get it ready for its launch in the near future. While there is a comedic undertone, Malbroux says the app is serious. The calculations are real numbers based on the most current government statistics. She also points out that the app doesn’t take into account all privilege – or lack thereof. As she explains, “Asian males make more, per dollar, than white males and so that is demonstrated in the app. But we’re not saying that Asians don’t face any types of issues as a minority.”
The focus is only on “the wage gap and how race and gender affects that based on statistics and historical oppression,” she explains. Equipay is a fun way to show how it plays out in real world scenarios. As she says, “It’s reparations…one meal at a time.”
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