The gender imbalance among Wikipedia contributors has been a simmering topic in our community for years, but a story from the New York Times yesterday is bringing a surge of new interest. “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List“, by Noam Cohen, brings wider attention to the stark statistic from a 2008 survey of Wikipedia users: Fewer than 15% of Wikipedia contributors are women. Cohen covers perspectives on the gender gap from Wikimedia’s Executive Director Sue Gardner, trustee Kat Walsh, and Wikipedia scholar Joseph Reagle, as well as leading thinkers on gender gaps in technology and the public sphere. As Gardner chronicles on her blog, the story prompted a flurry of additional coverage.
Kat Walsh goes into more detail in an essay she posted yesterday, “Women on Wikipedia“. The editing community has developed a culture that is attractive to a relatively narrow range of people, she argues, and it’s necessary–but very difficult–to become more inclusive. “How do you become more inclusive,” she asks, “without breaking the qualities that make the project happen to begin with?”
Sue shares more of her own thoughts about the gender gap in her first post to a new mailing list on the subject, which kicked off yesterday as a forum for all the intelligent voices that have chimed in lately. She says the reasons for Wikipedia’s gender gap are the same ones contributing to those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Gardner explains the reason for the list:
I think that all forms of diversity–geographic, political, ideological, cultural, sexual, age-related, etc.–are important. But having said that, I do think our gender skew is particularly bad, so even though I feel uncomfortable paying special attention to it, I believe it’s probably defensible. My hope for this list is that it’ll become a space where Wikipedians and non-Wikipedians can share research and information and tactics for making Wikipedia more attractive to women editors.
A report yesterday from The Signpost hints at some of the likely measurable effects of Wikipedia’s gender gap. Researchers recently created the Science Hall of Fame, a list of how famous thousands of scientists are, based on how many times their names are mentioned in books. Wikipedian Headbomb takes that list and compares fame with Wikipedia’s quality ratings. He finds that Wikipedia articles on the most famous women on the Science Hall of Fame list are less developed than you would predict based on their fame. In fact, his preliminary analysis suggests that traditionally male-dominated fields, such as philosophy and the physical sciences, may have better biographical coverage than fields with smaller gender gaps. A fuller analysis will be needed before we can draw any firm conclusions. But there’s no doubt that Wikipedia would benefit from a wider and more diverse community of contributors.
Want to be part of the effort? Join the Wikimedia gender gap discussion list.
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