In the spring of 2016 the Presidential Innovation Fellows, in collaboration with the Department of Commerce and the White House Chief of Technology, hosted Hackthepaygap. Teams were challenged to use data to design tools that demonstrate the gender pay gap in the United States and take steps to reduce it.

My team was selected to present at the final demo day where attendees included Meghan Smith, CTO, Secretary Pritzker of the Commerce Department, as well as stakeholders from the Domestic Policy Council, Accenture and other private and public organizations. 


Worked with Gina Kim, designer at the United States Digital Service, and Pragyansmita Nayak, data scientist


The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid time off to new parents. In addition, child care costs are outrageous. In many states, day care is more expensive than community college.

This is the motherhood penalty. New mothers drop out of the workforce to care for their children and lose years of wages and experience. When they return to work, they find themselves making substantially less money and at a lower level than their former colleagues.


We interviewed mothers of toddlers and infants, both working and not working, to understand their struggles and personal experiences with the gender pay gap and gender bias at work.

"It would be interesting to know exactly what you could miss out on when you leave for 6 months."
"I felt like I didn’t really have a choice. I was overwhelmed by everything that I couldn’t think clearly about what my options are. It’s a very emotional time. This is when you’re redefining yourself."
"People who do get adequate leave feel very valued and are loyal to their company. I would feel more connected to my company if they gave me more leave."
"I really love what I do and wanted to be a strong role model for my children by working. Having a career and having an impact. And it makes me happy."

We also talked to a few non parents who didn’t have any personal experience with the gender pay gap or gender bias at work. We encountered a lot of one dimensional thinking.

“A person who walks away from their job doesn’t get any special benefits.”
“If I drop out of the workforce to create a cure for cancer, and fail, should I come back to the workforce with equal pay?”
“Just because there is under-representation of sexes in a given industry doesn’t mean that there is injustice going on. Men and women have different preferences, that’s all there is to it.”

To properly understand the gender pay gap requires multidimensional thinking so in addition to interviews we analyzed data on parenthood, child care cost and labor statistics. We read papers and spoke to experts in the field. 

Theory of change:

If the public can experience the choices of new parents, they might realize how the lack of maternity leave contributes to the gender pay gap. They might be motivated to do something, especially if it was easy. At the end of the game, we make it easy for players to urge their senators to support the FAMILY act, which proposes 12 weeks of guaranteed paid leave for new parents each year. 

Bump Ahead:

Bump Ahead is a game that takes players through a story of a new mother. It mixes personal choices with situations out of the players control mimic the unpredictability of life. Data is mixed into the game so that players get a macro and micro perspective. In the end, players see how hard life can become just because they had a child. 

The game ends with a call to action to challenge State Representatives to play the game. Players can look up and quickly email and/or tweet at their representative. Each email or tweet is associated with a unique URL so we can track who plays the game. This way, players can hold their representatives accountable for changing the status quo and passing the FAMILY Act.