Gender pay gap Twitter bot challenges businesses on International Women’s Day


Fensome, a software developer, created the account as a bot, writing code that leads it to perform the function listed in his Twitter bio: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I retweet your gender pay gap”. warns.

By late Tuesday, @PayGapApp had gone viral, with more than 120,000 subscribers. He had also sent out hundreds of tweets calling out companies with information about their median hourly gender pay gaps.

Many social media users applauded the effort. “Brilliant”, a Twitter user wrote. “We need greater public accountability – it’s the only way for change to happen,” wrote another.

For Lawson, the account’s sudden popularity reflects growing consumer demand for transparency from companies that publicly campaign against inequality but may perpetuate it in their own workplaces.

“You can’t say you’re doing really well for equality if you don’t have the numbers behind you to back it up,” she added. “We don’t want to see beautiful portraits of your employees. We don’t want to see the round tables that you lead. We want you to tell us how you identified your issues, what you’re doing to fix them, and if you have anything to say, if you’re doing really well, well, show us the data.

Since 2017, the British government demanded companies with more than 250 employees to submit annual reports on their gender pay gaps based on payroll data. In 2020, the UK gender pay gap among all hourly workers was 15.5%, according to the Office for National Statistics – in other words, women earned about 85% of what men earned on average. (Companies in the UK are not required by law to report ethnicity-related pay gaps.)

In the United States in 2020, women earned on average 83% of what men earned, according to the American Association of University Women. Disparities are starker along racial lines, with black women being paid 64% of what non-Hispanic white men made in 2020 and Latinas receiving 57% of what white men earned that year, according to AAUW . Native American women typically earn only 60% of what white men earn, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which also notes that the pay gap is typically 85% for Asian American and Pacific Islander women.

For many companies tweeting about International Women’s Day, a quote retweet from @PayGapApp was unwelcome. The bot’s dispassionate scripted tweets often highlight the contrast between splashy corporate graphics and messages of support for their female workers and the realities of how underpaid these women are.

Budget airline Ryanair appeared to have one of the worst pay gaps reported by the bot at press time.

“In this organization, the median hourly wage for women is 68.6% lower than that of men,” the bot tweeted on a fake movie poster the airline created, featuring a selection of its female employees under a banner calling them “the Flight Squad.”

In a statement, a Ryanair spokesperson attributed the company’s pay gap to the fact that the majority of its UK pilots are male, noting that women have historically been under-represented as pilots in the airline industry. entire industry. (The national dataset used by the bot is a measure of all jobs in the UK, not the difference in pay between men and women for the same job.)

For Lawson, these kinds of systemic disparities are all the more reason for @PayGapApp and similar initiatives to exist.

“We wanted to use this data to put it back in the spotlight to raise awareness about the kind of challenges that remain and to start conversations about trying to solve them,” she said.

Some accounts blocked @PayGapApp in response to the tweets, Lawson and Fensome said. Others replied to tweets with more context on their gender pay gaps, noting that women make up the majority of workers in lower paid positions. For some employers, the account has highlighted where the median hourly wage for women stands higher than that of men Where equal to that of men.

Governments and employers can close the gender pay gap, according to a 2020 report by the National Women’s Law Centerfighting gender bias, raising the minimum wage, creating opportunities for women to grow within organizations, providing childcare and family and medical leave, and supporting transparency in wages and unionization of workers.

Lawson, a freelance writer and social media manager, came up with the idea last year to make government data publicly available via a Twitter account after seeing companies “filling social feeds and inboxes talking about events. they organise” for International Women’s Day,” she said.

“I was just starting to feel really discouraged because a lot of things are… not supported by long-term action to improve gender equality,” she added.

When she pitched the idea to Fensome on March 6 last year – two days before International Women’s Day – he got to work building the bot, he said.

Fensome added that he was also happy to have the chance to raise awareness about the government dataset highlighting the gender pay gap: “I was a little shocked at how little people who actually knew this amazing data.

What followed was “about two days of frenetic coding, data analysis, bug fixing, sort of ad hoc testing, and late nights,” Fensome said.

Its code causes the bot to scan Twitter accounts for a variety of keywords and hashtags related to International Women’s Day before matching the accounts against data from the government database. Then he writes a quote retweet of the company’s post with information about its gender pay gap.

At 6 a.m. on International Women’s Day last year, the couple launched the bot on Fensome’s laptop. That meant they could only leave it running during the day, as Fensome eventually had to resume using his computer, he said. But this year it’s running on Amazon Web Services, he added. Given their focus on International Women’s Day, the couple plan to allow the account to continue operating until the end of the week. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

This year, Madeline Odent, a 30-year-old resident of Oxford, England, started a viral twitter feed catalog companies that deleted tweets and locked their accounts after @PayGapApp tweeted them. She said she didn’t blame the social media managers who run the accounts for deleting the tweets, “just the bigwigs telling them to avoid criticism/negative press at all costs,” she said. told the Washington Post in a Twitter message.

Lawson and Fensome agreed. They also said they would like to see the UK government collect more data on the gender pay gap – including on race, sexual orientation, disability and age – to paint a more complete picture. how pay gaps affect women differently across these categories. It would allow them to run a similar campaign for Black History Month, for example, Lawson said.

In the meantime, the couple plan to keep iterating on @PayGapApp until it’s no longer needed.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need an International Women’s Day because we would have full gender parity,” Lawson said.

But for now, they are already planning the 2023 series of corporate roasts.

“We have ideas for things to do next year,” Fensome said, “but we have to keep some of them secret.”


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