Changing the Wikipedia Gender Gap — I’ll Start

February 08, 2011

I became the eighth most-frequent contributor to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” Wikipedia page following a graduate school assignment. Little did I know at the time, my contributions were somewhat unusual — Wikipedia-page writing and editing is dominated by men.

According to a recent New York Times article, a study of Wikipedia showed that its contributor base is just 13 percent women. The article said that most everything has an article on Wikipedia, so “the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis.” That’s clearly a problem, but even worse is when the gender disparity leads to important issues not showing up at all.

According to the Times article, 42 percent of Americans used Wikipedia for information as of May 2010. When Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for something or has limited information, I think we’re all guilty of wondering: Is this even really important?

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was actually my second choice for the Wikipedia class project. I set out in early September to do mine on the Paycheck Fairness Act. I had just started work at AAUW, and I was eager to dive into a topic so meaningful to my employer, to women, and to families.

I was first puzzled and then horrified to discover that a Paycheck Fairness Act page didn’t exist on Wikipedia. The House had passed the bill almost two years before, in January 2009. The Paycheck Fairness Act Wikipedia page was eventually created on September 22, 2010. It is now out of date and strongly needs inclusion of AAUW’s research. We can do better.

AAUW staff and members should make an effort to contribute to Wikipedia because it’s a primary source of information for many. And we all need to get behind the Wikimedia Foundation’s commendable goal to have 25 percent female contributors by 2015.

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in the Times article that she’s trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach to bring more women on board instead of recruitment or quotas. However, I think situations exist where recruitment and quotas make sense. My class was part of the U.S. Public Policy WikiProject, which has more than 50 campus ambassadors. Not having gender parity — and overall diversity — among the ambassadors is a missed opportunity.

To illustrate my commitment to increase the number of women contributors, I just edited my userpage to note that I am a woman. And I pledge to make an edit a month for the remainder of the year. For other ideas on how to contribute, check out another blogger’s take.

If you’re thinking my pledge doesn’t sound like much, I bet you can do the same. Together, our efforts will be significant.

Elizabeth Owens By:   |   February 08, 2011

4 Comments

  1. Donna Cooper Graves says:

    I will be sharing this with my women’s history class. Also, it is another reason to discourage students from using Wikipedia as actual research.

  2. terese terry says:

    Wikipedia is by and for individuals with an excess of idle time and a disregard for documented research.

  3. Comments on blogs are by and for individuals with an excess of idle time and a disregard for truth

  4. Nancy says:

    Wikipedia is the largest example, of course, but wikis are also used in other collaborative environments.

    For the last several years, there has been at least one volunteer-run wiki devoted to AAUW-specific information (from examples of alternate branch structures, to posting talks from various state meetings, to technical tips, …)

    As we move into this new world of “user generated content”, yes there are challenges — and encouraging participation is one of them. But communication venues like this blog and wikipedia allow for sharing of information in ways that we just couldn’t have envisioned 10 years ago.

    I recommend Clay Shirky’s writings on the subject — and would encourage others to participate in wikis and wiki-like structures devoted to topics about which they are passionate.

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