Twitter Bot Exposes Gender Pay Gap of Companies Tweeting About International Women's Day

Oh, the hypocrisy!

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

The Gender Pay Gap Bot has been doing the lord's work all day long.

Marcela Ruth Romero/Getty

Every day, there's a new main character on Twitter , and International Women's Day was no different. Providing an invaluable service to women everywhere, Gender Pay Gap Bot went viral on Tuesday when it revealed the extent to which companies celebrating IWD on Twitter were paying their female employees less than their male employees.

International Women's Day has long been appropriated by companies using the language and imagery of female empowerment to sell us things or simply to paint themselves in a positive and progressive light. But if we really want to understand whether a particular company believes in women's empowerment, the best place to start is by looking at their gender pay gap. Often, there is disconnect between what they say and what they do. This is exactly the kind of hypocrisy the Gender Pay Gap Bot highlights.

In the UK, companies with more than 250 employees are required to publicly share data about the differences in pay between men and women across their organizations. Gender pay gap data can reflect inequalities in men and women's experience of working for a company -- for example if a company only promotes men into senior managerial positions or recruits more women to lower paying roles. It's often used as a barometer for measuring gender equality within an organization.

The bot is the creation of copywriter Francesca Lawson and software developer Ali Fensome, both 27, from Manchester, England. Lawson and Fensome used this publicly available data to create a bot that identified British companies and organizations tweeting with the International Women's Day hashtag and would retweet them with information about their gender pay gaps.

Aware that the Gender Pay Gap Bot was airing their dirty laundry in public, many companies and organizations deleted their original International Women's Day tweets so they wouldn't show up in the Bot's feed. Twitter user Madeline Odent (@oldenoughtosay) started keeping track of employers who were deleting their tweets after being called out by the bot. She noticed that many of them reposted their tweets using a different variation of the IWD hashtag.

"I think it's pretty cowardly to delete the tweet after being called out -- it gives off the impression that they're embarrassed about their pay gap and they'd rather pretend it doesn't exist than own up to their problems and do something about it," Lawson said over email. "Nationwide Building Society and University of Sunderland responded with a bit more context about what is causing their gap, which I think is a much more helpful response."

Many of the original tweets used pictures and videos of smiling women working for British companies, with uplifting messages about the importance of female leadership and role models. In contrast, the retweets made for pretty depressing reading. Not all, but the majority of Gender Pay Gap Bot's tweets revealed that women's hourly median pay was lower than that of their male colleagues -- by as much as 73%.

It's no secret that the technology industry in particular has long had a gender and diversity problem. A report released in October by Anita.org, a nonprofit that works to advance women in computing, showed that half of women working in tech feel that it's a boys' club. We can perhaps glean why this is the case by examining some of the Gender Pay Gap Bot's tweets.

"While women have made great strides, there is a continued fight for equality and to eliminate discrimination and bias between genders," tweeted cloud technology company NetApp on Tuesday. "Together, we can forge women's equality. How will you #BreakTheBias?"

Meanwhile, the Gender Pay Gap Bot retweet of NetApp's tweet revealed that women working at the company were paid a median of 37% less per hour than men. 

This is just one example among many, but it highlights the extent to which companies are able to paint discrimination and bias as a problem for others to solve. In light of this, asking what individuals will do to "break the bias" looks like the very definition of passing the buck.

"NetApp's gap in gender pay is mostly driven by the fact that there are far more male employees in commissionable (sales) roles," a NetApp spokesperson said in a statement. "We know there is still work to do and are actively focused on gender balance. NetApp continues to take active steps in reviewing our pay positioning and ensuring we pay male and female employees equally who are in similar jobs that require similar skill sets."