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How a Twitter bot went viral by shaming companies on International Women's Day

Lindsay Dodgson   

How a Twitter bot went viral by shaming companies on International Women's Day
  • A Twitter bot is tweeting the gender pay gaps of companies celebrating International Women's Day.
  • Some companies have deleted their messages after being called out.

Francesca Lawson did not expect the Twitter bot she built with the software developer Ali Fensome to gain tens of thousands of followers in a single day. Their bot was created to carry out one simple task, which it outlines in its bio: "Employers, if you tweet about International Women's Day, I'll retweet your gender pay gap."

On March 8, the Gender Pay Gap Bot has been quote-tweeting companies that have congratulated themselves on having female employees and hosting female-only panels — often alongside photos of the women on their staff. The problem is that their words don't match the data and pay equity at these companies, Lawson said, which is where the bot comes in.

As the bot started tweeting pay gaps during International Women's Day, it quickly went viral, with some tweets garnering hundreds of likes and retweets — particularly when the pay gap was large. At the law firm Shearman & Sterling, for instance, "women's median hourly pay is 52% lower than men's," the bot said.

"You can't take steps toward resolving a problem that you are pretending doesn't exist," Lawson told Insider. "That acknowledgment is the first step to actually considering the future and how you're gonna fix it."

Lawson, a freelance copywriter and social-media manager, drew on her own experience in coming up with the idea for the bot. At a previous company that she worked for, a little bit of her "died inside" each time a colleague told her to promote how empowering and diverse its staff was, she said, because the data didn't back up the inspirational messages.

"The data really does not support your position," she told Insider. "So let's keep the conversation focused on the work that is yet to be done, rather than just cashing in on some really vague and kind of sweet, but also meaningless, posts."

The Gender Pay Gap Bot has retweeted well over 1,000 companies in response to their International Women's Day posts. While Lawson thought it was great to see companies celebrate women and acknowledge their value, she believed that sentiment came easy when compared with making actual progress on gender equality.

"The difficult part is actually integrating that within your culture and your hiring practices," she said. "We really just wanted to make sure that we can still hold these companies accountable when their words and actions don't line up."

Lawson and Fensome developed their first version of the bot just before International Women's Day in 2021 when they were having a conversation about the amount of "waffle" that comes out every year from companies promoting equality. The data comes from the United Kingdom's government website, which has figures for the pay-gap data of companies with 250 or more employees.

But the first iteration didn't go as planned because their bot was too prompt in retweeting companies. It got reported as spam and banned from Twitter. This year, they put a 10-minute time delay on retweets, which has kept them up and running.

Several companies deleted their tweets after being called out, and some companies even blocked the bot. The best response, Lawson said, was when companies contacted her privately to explain the reasons behind their pay gap and what they were doing about it. That's what's really important, she said — companies owning their shortcomings and pledging to do something about it.

As for the future of the Gender Pay Gap Bot, that's up in the air for now. Lawson said they would keep it running until the end of the week at least, and then they hoped to find more data that it could use. For example, they would like to obtain some ethnicity pay-gap data to challenge the messages of support coming from companies during Black History Month or data on LGBTQ+ employees to bring awareness during Pride. But those ideas may require more digging as the data isn't publicly available.

"The reason that we're going all-in on International Women's Day is mainly just because that's where we have data," Lawson said. "If ever in the future we have more data, we'll be back."


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