The Making (And Occasional Unmaking) Of Wikiwomen

We knew Wikipedia had a lady problem. But now it's proven by science.

The Times reported earlier this year on the gender gap at the massive, wholly voluntary encyclopedia, and on Wikimedia Foundation's executive director (a woman) aiming to increase female participation to 25 percent by 2015. Their internal study put the total number of female editors at thirteen percent.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota's GroupLens Research Lap found an only marginally rosier picture. They used self-reported gender data from over 110,000 editors over the past six years:


Their research showed that only 16 percent of new editors joining Wikipedia during 2009 identified themselves as female, and those females made only nine percent of the edits by the editors who joined in 2009. To make matters worse, female editors are more likely to stop editing and leave Wikipedia when their edits are reverted as newcomers.

The cumulative effect was that articles that the researchers deemed "male" were much longer than ones deemed "female." (For example, they looked at movies with primarily female audiences versus primarily male.) The researchers also noticed that female editors were twice as likely to edit entries on "controversial or contentious" topics. Oh, and there was this:

In addition, female editors are significantly more likely to have their early contributions undone by their fellow editors, and are more likely to be indefinitely blocked by fellow editors. Taken together, these findings hint at a culture that may be resistant to female participation.

What would make adding to this ever-central source of information more appealing to women? Piper Klemm, a female scientist at Berkeley had one theory: "I believe that more women would be involved in editing Wikipedia if it were a social activity, rather than an insular one, so I hosted a WikiWomen party at my house to make the experience collaborative," she recently wrote. There were five female chemists present; the night kicked off with a dinner in which attendees "discussed the experience of being a graduate student, and how writing for Wikipedia compares to teaching undergraduates."


There were cocktails, but this wasn't about making sure the Sex And The City entry had it right; the women edited entries on their work — magellanine, Lycopodium magellanicum, and bioorthogonal chemistry among them — and about their research mentors. One woman reflected afterwards, "We are all experts on something!" If only more women felt that way.

Researchers Reveal Wikipedia Gender Biases [Scientific Computing]
Wikiwomen: A New Kind Of Party [Science Review]
Why Wikipedia Needs More Ladies