International Women’s Day is today, which means that, like clockwork, brands and companies begin posting earnestly about womanhood and female empowerment. The problem is very few businesses practice what they preach, particularly when it comes to the ever-widening discrepancy in wages between men and women.
Enter: the Gender Pay Gap Bot, which has been terrorising British employers by quote-tweeting their virtuous IWD posts with the company’s gender pay gap data. So far, the Twitter bot has gone after a sweeping range of companies, including banks, political parties, universities, local councils, charities, fashion brands and more.
In some cases, the gulf between men and women’s median hourly pay has been as much as 40 percent (see: Missguided, which celebrated IWD by “paying it forward” to customers in cash and asking them for the best advice they’ve received. #empowering!).
At Young’s Pubs, a pub chain in London, women are paid a shocking 73.2 percent less than men. A Young’s spokesperson told VICE that the figures were due to a “mandatory change in reporting due to furlough” and “are in no way are a true reflection of the Young’s business and our people”.
Some companies have chosen to delete their tweets entirely rather than face criticism, as in the case of Aston University, where the median hourly pay for women is 25.8 percent lower than men’s. “My alma mater do not like being faced with reality,” one Twitter user noted of the deletion. Another user’s thread collating all the deletions has already over 2,300 retweets.
Freelance copywriter and social media manager Francesca Lawson and software developer Ali Fensome built the bot in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic as a “lockdown project”, she told VICE. Initially created in the weekend before IWD that year, Lawson and Fensome have spent the interim months refining the bot and pulling in new figures from the UK gender pay gap database.
In 2017, the UK government made it compulsory for all companies with 250 employees and over to report the difference in earnings between men and women. Anyone can look up the data on a government site, but Lawson saw a chance to bring the information to a wider light.
“If we're not confronting that data and acting on it, then the problems are just going to persist forever,” she says. “We created the bot is to make sure that this data isn't just forgotten about – it's in the spotlight. By talking about it, we can begin to put pressure on employers to start changing their hiring practices, and paying everyone more.
“It's not just a case of getting women into leadership roles. That's got to be backed up by making sure that all the other roles in the organisation are paid well and paid fairly.”
Lawson and Fensome exported all the gender pay gap data from the government site into a CSV format and then collated it for the five years the reporting has been compulsory. “Then,” she explains, “there's a bit of code which searches Twitter using the company name as it is on the data to match that to a username on Twitter. From that, the bot is just listening out for a series of keywords related to International Women's Day to find if there's a match.”
As soon as a company begins to disingenuously celebrate IWD by tweeting about how much it values the contributions of its female workforce, the Gender Pay Gap Bot is primed to fire out a tweet revealing the truth.
Some of its posts have been retweeted hundreds of times – so far, the tweet disclosing Young’s Pubs gender pay gap has been reposted over 600 times and received more than 1,700 likes.
More positively, the Gender Pay Gap Bot has highlighted some companies that pay women and men equally, and occasionally even a few with a slightly higher pay for women than men, like the London Fire Brigade:
“I'm a bit overwhelmed to be honest! I think I was not expecting for it to become so widespread,” Lawson says. “Last year, from a standing start, we got up to about 1,400 followers. This year, we're now at over 20,000 so it's really snowballed.”
“Obviously, I'm pleased that people are noticing it and they're using it as a tool to see through some of the more wishy-washy type celebrations for International Women's Day. It's great to see so many people engaging with it and feeling like it's beneficial.”
In 2021, Guardian analysis revealed that the pay gap between men and women was widening, with eight out of ten companies with more than 250 employees still paying men more than women. Women across all sectors are paid a median hourly rate of 10.2 percent less than their male colleagues – which means that the Gender Pay Gap Bot has its work cut out for it.
But Lawson says that the bot is up for the challenge: “I think we're going to leave it running probably for the rest of the week to pick up any stragglers, you know, thinking that they can kind of circumvent us by tweeting later.”