The brains behind the bot, Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome Image: Courtesy of Francesca Lawson
“A little bit of my soul would fall out when I hit publish.”
Francesca Lawson is thinking back to the International Women’s Day social media posts she had to write for companies keen to show their commitment to the female cause.
“A lot of the things they were wanting to say were just not true,” she continued. Yet as a professional social media copywriter, she had to post these statuses that came from “people higher up than me who wanted to communicate how good we were as a company.”
In a gloriously satisfying twist, Lawson’s Gender Pay Gap Bot, co-created with her partner Ali Fensome, a software consultant, totally changed the direction of International Women’s Day 2022 for companies on Twitter, wreaking havoc among social media teams across the nation.
Calling for “deeds not words”, the account – named Gender Pay Gap Bot – indiscriminately retweeted companies across the UK mentioning International Women’s Day with their own gender pay gap figures, which measure women’s median hourly pay compared to men’s.
The bot was created by the couple last year, born into the world just in time for IWD 2021, when it managed to tweet 900 times before being blocked by Twitter by lunch. To avoid Twitter’s accusation of “spamming”, Fensome designed Bot V2 to spread out tweets rather than retweeting instantly, removed the company’s Twitter handle from the retweet, and avoid hashtags.
These tweeks took it from “spam-bot” to “valuable resource” and to say it was welcomed would be modest. Mid-morning retweets from Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr and writer Caitlin Moran helped to bolster momentum, and by the end of the day over 200,000 followers were eagerly awaiting which company would be next.
“We’ve had a lot of people attempting to circumvent the bot by deleting and reposting, we’ve had companies block us, we’ve had people block their accounts,” said Lawson, though since the company’s Twitter handle remains in the retweeted url, there really was little hiding.
But to be vindictive or to catch people out wasn’t their intention. “We’re literally just stating the facts, you go away and make your own decisions about what that means,” she continues.
“I think people in companies being called out literally have never seen their own gender pay gap,” adds Fensome. “I get the sense that most people don’t even know the data exists.”
Despite being overwhelmed by positive responses to the bot, Lawson was disappointed by how few companies have owned up to their figures and committed to doing better, which is the kind of response the couple would have liked to see.
“More often it’s explaining why their gender pay gap is acceptable, or why they’ve been hard-done by the furlough scheme,” explains Fensome.
Young’s Pubs, where “women’s median hourly pay is 73.2 per cent lower than mens” according to Gender Pay Gap Bot’s use of government data, wanted it on the record that due to the furlough scheme brought in over the pandemic, its gender pay gap was “significantly distorted”.
“I don’t have much time or tears for that, quite frankly,” said Fensome. “They chose to furlough who they furloughed. They could have looked at their gender pay gap before furloughing all the women, or all the high paid women, the situation was totally in their hands.”
The UK’s gender pay gap increased during the pandemic to 15.5 per cent. It is a government requirement that all companies with 250 or more employees publish their gender pay gap data every year and publish it on their websites.
After the success of the Gender Pay Gap Bot, the duo have already got their sights set on other ways to highlight inequality through data. Something to do with LGBTQ+ inequality says Lawson, “because everyone puts a rainbow flag on their logos without actually engaging in much work during Pride month.”
And they say they’ve even had an inquiry from Greenpeace to do something highlighting companies carbon emissions in the face of greenwashing.
The only thing standing in their way is the availability of data. It’s not yet mandatory for companies to report their ethnicity pay gaps, but the couple say that it should be.
“As and when that data does come out, we’d love to be able to use that as another tool to hold companies to account for the inequalities that exist within their organisation.”
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