EquiTable is a new app that allows users to split their group dinner bill into equitable (not equal) portions based on privilege. The app, which was the Grand Prize Winner of the 2016 Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco, uses real labor statistics to address income disparities between races and genders. Just put in your info, and EquiTable’s advanced “history-based algorithm” takes care of the rest. The app's creators call it, “Affirmative Fractions."
“For centuries, women and people of color have worked day-in and day-out only to be burdened by unequal pay for equal work,” Luna Malbroux, a San Francisco-based comedian and the 'chief equality officer' for the app, explained at Comedy Hack Day 2016.
Gesturing toward a four-person judging panel of three white men and a white woman: “You’re a black woman, so you understand the harsh realities.” The crowd exploded into laughter. She continued: “Congress, civil rights leaders, business people, Obama -- all have tried for years to solve the problem of wage equality and all have failed, until now.”
One of the primary features of the app is a built-in diversity tracker which tracks the level of diversity within a dining group. It ranges from “Oscars” (all white men) to “San Francisco Startup” (including Asian men), with the most diverse group being “College Brochure” (which accounts for women and minorities).
Once the bill has been split into equitable portions, it gives users the opportunity to either accept or protest the amount and “claim less privilege." “This curated list of common objections is for people who confuse equity for white oppression,” Malbroux explained in a promo video for the app.
Excuses range from, “I’m conventionally unattractive” to “I’m aware of my privilege” or “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps." However, pretty much all of the options end up with the user still paying the amount that was quoted to them. The only way you pay less is if you get paid less.
One of the options, “this isn’t an issue anymore,” offers a very comedic run-down of the very real social and political factors that make an app like this relevant. This includes the fact that most women earn 78 cents for every dollar that men make. Black women earn 64 cents, and Latinas earn a mere 56 cents. It also asks users to consider unemployment rates and the lack of diversity within certain industries, like tech.
So, why would anyone want to use an app like this, especially if you are on the higher side of the privilege/pay spectrum (i.e., white and Asian males)? “Well, aside from slowly undoing centuries of disenfranchisement, for the same reason you would do anything: to make yourself look more considerate on social media,” Malbroux explained. “We at Equipay know that people love social recognition for being socially conscious. So, we incorporated a share feature which allows users to let the world know of their achievement."
But what if you don’t hang out with a diverse group of friends? The app creators have thought about that, too. If you’re dining with an “Oscars 2016” friend group of all white guys, EquiTable automatically adds a Pay It Forward Surcharge for homogeneous groups. This suggested donation will help solve the wage gap, even if your meal won't.
One of the judges asked if the app might one day be programmed to account for other aspects of privilege like disabilities or sexual orientation, to which Malbroux responded, “We thought about adding a feature that would incorporate all of these different options, but it would still only calculate for race and gender.”
And, for those who think the app is unfairly prejudiced against white males, the team addressed the fact that Asian males actually make 20 percent more than their white male counterparts, so they are the ones who are actually hit the hardest. “Also, who do you think built the app?” another team member chimed in.
EquiTable is not the first app to address privilege head-on. The winner of last year's Comedy Hack Day, WellDeserved, an app that exploits the power of privilege (particularly within the tech industry), follows a similar theme.
The fact of the matter is that privilege is still a very touchy subject in our country. To speak openly about it is often considered inappropriate or taboo. This app, (regardless of it being real or not) does something that most social justice causes are unable to do: openly discuss equity, primarily as it relates to race and gender, in a tangible way. It is starting a necessary (and long overdue) conversation, so kudos to the app creators and the Comedy Hack Day judges for bringing this project to the forefront.
Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.