International Women’s Day: I set up a Twitter bot to expose the pay gap

Twitter bot trolls companies tweeting about International Women's Day

Hopefully @PayGapApp has sent a message to businesses that posting about ‘women’s empowerment’ is not enough (Image credit: Twitter/

Since 2017, companies with more than 250 employees are required to report the gender pay gap annually.

But judging by the conversations I’ve had with friends, awareness of this data is still quite low.

Or it was until last year on Tuesday March 8 – International Women’s Day 2022.

When messages of “empowerment”, “celebration” and “inspiration” from companies began popping up on social media this morning, my partner Ali Fensome and I confronted them with their own gender pay gap data via the @PayGapApp bot on Twitter.

We created @PayGapApp to bring attention to the gender pay gap data again.

When a company listed on the government’s Gender Pay Gap service tweeted about International Women’s Day, the bot automatically responded with its median hourly pay gap data in a tweet with a quote.

Within hours, our bot had 250,000 followers on Twitter, and companies with the biggest pay gaps were receiving hundreds of retweets.

Our goal was to show how pictures of smiling employees and inspirational quotes hide what is really going on behind the scenes. The average hourly wage of women was lower than that of men in 77% of companies in 2020-2021, showing that promises of companies supporting International Women’s Day are rarely backed up by action.

And if they’re not working to remove the barriers faced by women in their organizations, they’re not getting any closer to gender parity, and they shouldn’t be claiming otherwise on International Women’s Day.

Our bot was also inspired by the frustration of companies treating International Women’s Day as a marketing opportunity. “25% off lipsticks at IWD!”; “Join us for an IWD webinar with at least one female speaker!”; “Look at all the women we employ!”

Messages like this miss the meaning of International Women’s Day for me. Yes, it is an opportunity to recognize our achievements so far, but also an opportunity to reflect on what still needs to be done.

This should not be a reason to sell us stuff or a branding exercise for employers.

By contrasting companies’ sentimental words with cold, hard data, we helped the public see through these empty gestures and start holding companies accountable for the gender pay gap.

Francesca and Ali

Francesca and Ali (photo: Francesca Lawson)

The way it works is quite simple: the bot matches company names from government data with their Twitter accounts, then listens to posts with keywords related to International Women’s Day, and when it finds a corresponding tweet from one of the companies in the data, it fetches and publishes the differences in wages of women and men.

Ali’s technical background brought it all together – he works as a software consultant, so he had the right skills to automate every step and make sure it ran smoothly.

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges along the way. First, companies often use slightly different names between their social media accounts and government records, which makes it a bit difficult to match companies with their Twitter usernames.

The Academy Trusts are a prime example of this: their Gender Pay Gap data is recorded for the entire trust, but each school within that trust may have a separate Twitter account.

Since we launched @PayGapApp last year, we’ve posted over 8,000 tweets and recorded over 150 million tweet views (the number of times our tweets have been viewed by users).

This drew media attention from around the world and caused the companies with the biggest gender pay gap to publish statements explaining their figures.

This public response was better than we expected. It was very rewarding to see so many people dealing with data and finding what we did useful. It shows the need for transparency and authenticity – people want to see evidence to back up companies’ gender equality claims.

Companies response? Less unusual. A few preferred outsmarting the bot over recognizing their data.

They tried to remove posts, they tried to remove hashtags… about 20 companies just blocked the account. They tried to hide to avoid scrutiny, but it didn’t work. The bot caught up with them again when they reposted, and they faced criticism from the public for deleting the first tweet. Not a good look.

I hope @PayGapApp continues to send a message to companies that posts about “women’s empowerment” are not enough. We need the support you show on International Women’s Day to continue throughout the year.

Where is the solidarity when we ask for a raise? Or when they interrupt our meetings? Or when do we report harassment?

To say something worth saying about any social topic – be it gender equality, LGBT rights, fighting racism, accessibility – you must already be doing something worth doing.

It is time for companies to recognize the gender pay gap, look at what is causing it, and implement policies such as extended paid parental leave for all genders, blind recruitment and higher wages.

And to all the employers caught by the bot: you have a whole 12 months to make the next International Women’s Day not so embarrassing for you.

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