HUM 2DH3: Bridging the Wage Gap

The issue of gender inequality as examined in workplace wages is one that has arguably shrunk throughout the years, however, inevitably still exists. Women’s average incomes have risen by approximately $3,000 (www.socialjustice.org) due to two decades’ worth of progress. However, women globally still have a significant way to go to be at par with their male counterparts. It is noted that women over-populate the contingent workforce, where wages remain minimal and their work is part-time, non-unionized and insecure. Some institutions have already taken the necessary steps to close the wage gap, such as  McMaster University. A new plan was implemented in summer 2015, where female professors were, and currently continue, to be entitled to a $3,515 (CBC) increase in base salaries; the university found that this was the difference between the amount females and their male counterparts earned. As two young women who will be entering the workplace in hopes of landing secure, full-time employment, it was crucial for us to address an issue that we will both inevitably face in the years to come.

Rationale

As members of the female community, we decided to respond to the ongoing issue of the gender wage gap. It is remarkable to believe that such an issue still exists in 2017 – where those identifying as a particular gender are paid less for often the same number of working hours. After some deliberation, we chose to create a website application in which users can directly input personal data using their computers or smartphones (compatible with mobile devices). Benefits, vacation time, current salary, and current profession are all factors which we are considering in the diagnostic questionnaire that users will be presented with upon using the app for the first time. Once completing the necessary questions, the website will then present users with employees in a similar position, in a nearby community. Users then have the opportunity to network with others in forming more effective union settings while simultaneously participating in the fight for equality. Our concept for the website was originally conceived of as a thought experiment, where our design was derived from an initial idea sparked by personal gender identifications (Dunne and Raby, 2013, p. 80).

After engaging with external research, it is apparent that non-unionized work settings create larger wage-gaps among employees. Within the ‘Gender Inequality’ section under the Centre for Social Justice (n.d.) website, statistics show that women receive 72% of a male’s income for the same work in non-unionized environments, compared to 82% of a male’s income when working in unionized settings. After a review of such statistics, we were keen on proactively creating a platform which could potentially increase workers’ salaries by as much as 10% if in desirable settings. Our prototype for our website can be viewed under a functional lens; ensuring that real, user feedback can be inputted in order to get the most out of our design (Hanson, 2015). Our app design was constructed in a way which could shed light on an ongoing issue our society continues to face: gender inequality in the workforce. While we aim to reduce the wage gap between genders, there is no certainty that the issue will be eradicated after executing the website. While our design is plausible, the idea that wage gaps will slowly begin to vanish is a mere hope and is not entirely believable (Dunne and Raby, 2013, p. 96). Elaborating, our idea was not so much a product that could be executed in the marketplace, but rather focused on the idea of constructionism within critical making. With an abundance of resources at our fingertips, it almost seems like a responsibility that many are entitled to take on, to see progressions in the social sphere. Matt Ratto’s (2011) “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life” discusses the convergence of critical thinking and physical making which work to form the underlying schema of our project: critical making. By linking “conceptual and material work” (Ratto, 2011, p. 258), we have began taking progressive steps towards revealing a solution to a pressing social justice issue. Our concept, the wage gap, and our materialistic product, the ‘Wage Bridge’ website, combines both feminist framework as well as twenty-first century technology to ensure those affected have an opportunity to have their voices and stories heard by people community-wide.

Description of the Design Process

Our process of design started with researching and brainstorming ideas for our chosen social justice issue. We chose to do the gender wage gap because it was an issue that both of us found relevant, but most importantly, our goal to resolve this social justice issue was driven by passion. As female students, it is extremely frustrating for us to know that when we graduate and start applying to jobs, our male counterparts will already have a salary advantage – regardless of having similar qualifications. When our time comes to start our careers, employers might see us as unequal to men with similar experience simply because we are female.

Using this frustration as our driving force, we researched methods that have been proven to minimize wage gaps within professions. The method that we found particularly interesting was unionization. But how could we incorporate unionization into a Proof of Concept? Speculative design was our answer. Thankfully, we did not encounter too many challenges during the process of coming up with an idea once we had a method.  We used our knowledge of speculative design to create a proof of concept that would provide a platform for local men and women to network within their profession, with the ultimate goal being salary negotiations based on the wages of local professionals with similar experience, and eventually, the formation of unions within said professions.  

We built on the concept of PayScale, which provides general salary information

Our Proof of Concept took form as a mobile website for mobile devices and as a website for use on computers. Our goal was as follows: Create an app where local men and women of various professional and educational backgrounds are able to input information including:

    • Salary
    • Company/workplace setting
    • Years of experience
    • Field
    • Benefits/vacation time

Individuals are then able to network with locals in their field to assist with salary negotiations and forming (better) unions. In addition, individuals who are looking to upgrade their education and skills are able to see the compensation professionals within their desired professions are receiving.

Our website:

http://www.wagebridge.org

Our questionnaire prototype:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdEIDp7RmeeqjoFkF9y406VyaGscJi6WogVUKC7gYr0GaZ34g/viewform?c=0&w=1

Reflexive Examination of the Proof of Concept

Evaluating our Proof of Concept from a distance, the strengths are easily identifiable. The potential to minimize the wage gap is one of the main strengths, in addition to the opportunity to network with local professionals, and upgrade your educational background based on the position and salary you hope to achieve. In addition, by offering the service as a website rather than an app, we provide accessibility for users who may not have cell phones but have computer access from local public libraries. There were some assumptions made in the process of creating the Proof of Concept, including the assumption that there is a wage gap based solely on gender. Some may argue that the gender wage gap is a result of maternity leave and the types of professions women are prominently part of, however, according to our research, the gender wage gap exists regardless of these things.

There are also limitations to our Proof of Concept that can be identified when looking closer into the plan. For instance, the application/website does not incorporate ethnicity into the data. This can become problematic because statistically, women of certain ethnic backgrounds are paid even less than other women – leading to a wage gap within the gender. This was not addressed with our application as our goal was to address the social justice issue of the gender wage gap, but going forward – addressing the wage gap within women could be a logical next step. Some other limitations include privacy, which can be addressed by incorporating usernames/anonymity, and usability as the app needs to be used in order to be useful.  

Conclusion

Even with these limitations, the Proof of Concept still brings attention to the social justice issue at large: that equal work deserves equal pay. Regardless of whether or not individuals would use an application such as this, it opens the conversation to the wage gap and aims to raise awareness surrounding the way men and women are treated in the workforce. Overall, our goal with this speculative design project was to address the human rights issue of inequality. We hope that by sharing our research and proof of concept, individuals in society are more socially conscious when considering the impact of inequality, and how women should be valued as equal workers, equal professionals, and most of all, equal humans.

– Maha Dostmohamed and Harleen Dhami

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