Wednesday , August 17 2022

Twitter Bot Highlights Gender Pay Gap One Company at a Time

Each International Women’s Day, photos of smiling women appear in a steady stream on social media alongside testimonials from brands eager to show their support for gender equality.

This week, however, the stream was disrupted by a Twitter account that spat back pay gap data of companies, schools and nonprofits.

The account, @PayGapApp, targets companies in Britain, where the public has access to mountains of data about employers’ pay disparities and men working full time earned 7.9 percent more than women as of April 2021.

Each time a university or hospital in Britain promoted International Women’s Day on Twitter this week with certain keywords or hashtags, including #IWD and #BreakTheBias, the pay gap account automatically retweeted the message with a note about how the median hourly pay for women employed at the organization compared with that of men.

Francesca Lawson, a copywriter and social media manager in Manchester, England, created the automated account, or bot, with her partner, Ali Fensome, a software consultant.

“The bot exists in order to empower employees and members of the public to hold these companies to account for their role in perpetuating inequalities,” said Ms. Lawson, 27. “It’s no good saying how much you empower women if you have a stinking pay gap.”

Since 2018, the British government has required companies with 250 or more employees to report salary differences between men and women each year. The reports are available to the public on a searchable government website.

Ms. Lawson said she created the Twitter account so the public could retrieve this information more easily. “For it to have influence, people need to be able to find it,” Ms. Lawson said.

On Wednesday, the day after International Women’s Day, the pay gap account had more than 205,000 followers. Some organizations had deleted tweets that the pay gap account had highlighted, while others responded with their plans to address the pay gap.

English Heritage, a charity that manages historical sites such as Stonehenge, responded to a note that its women workers were paid 3.9 percent less than men with a link to its report on the data, from April 2020.

“Since then, we’ve been working hard to reduce our pay gap & it is closing,” English Heritage said on Twitter. “But regardless of its size, a gap is still a gap and the charity is committed to eliminating it.”

The pay gap account highlights median hourly pay data, but companies in Britain are also required to provide information on gaps in average bonuses. Some companies also voluntarily provide more data and context in their reports.

Australia and Germany have also ordered companies to report on their pay gaps, but there has been no comparable requirement for businesses in the United States, where women’s annual earnings were 82.3 percent of men’s in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The gap is even wider for Black and Hispanic women.

Ms. Lawson said she hoped the popularity of her account would show that there was demand for more data like this. “I would hope that other governments would want to start making reporting that data compulsory as a result,” she said.

The couple first created the account the weekend before International Women’s Day in 2021 and used it as a test run to see what worked and what did not. Now, they are trying to figure out how to best use the attention the account has generated to promote other issues related to inequality. Ms. Lawson said she would like to see some copycat efforts.

“The more people who are doing this work,” she said, “then the fewer places there are for companies to hide.”

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