Wikipedia: Why So Few Women Edit?

After three das of discussions at WikiWomen Camp 2012, there is a long list of possible "reasons" or factors that would possibly influence female participation and contribution to Wikipedia. The big question: why just 9-10% of contributors tend to be women? The fact that women represent about half of the Internet users, and yet, about half of the Wikipedia readers, leaves us surprised about the fact that very few of them feel concerned into building, maintaining and enriching the knowledge collected by Wikipedians.

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The fact that Wikipedia requires less technical skills than writing a code, proves that technical skills are not the real burdens women have for not joining the communities of geeks. "The Wikimedia community looks very much like any other hacker community; surprisingly in Germany, big number of the Computer Chaos Club organizers are also on the Board of Wikipedia Germany", says Anja Ebersbach, Board member of German WP.

Therefore, we need to looks for the reasons elsewere. Let's list some of the discussed ones on the WikiWomen Camp:

Community-related

  1. There's no real figure to find out about the number of women in Wikipedia. The gap is barely recognized. No specific measures taken about that (not recognition of the seriousness of the problem)
  2. Not clear how to get involved. Guidance & need awareness are low.
  3. Not clear that Wikipedia needs more contributors. "You can be an editor, too. Your contribution is important -- each person has a valuable knowledge to share".
  4. What is hard is to figure where to start from, how choose a topic, and it takes time to do some serious work on the topic.
  5. Lack of mentorship: sometimes we feel lost, less situated, not original enough to contribute
  6. Missing contributors of reference -- to support & to confirm your knowledge is validated.
  7. Special jargon, unwritten rules of the community that feel certain newcomers unconfortable.
  8. Different type of content needs different type of writing style (often encyclopedic/technical).

In short, what is missing are statistics and awareness for the real problem of the lack of diversity among the Wikipedia contributors. Not just the technical issue of the wiki platform, but also a lack of awareness for the need of more contributors, of the process of contributing and the first steps to get invovled. Moreover, the community behind Wikipedia seems to act very much like any other online geek community -- therefore the specific jargon, agressive behavious, strict rules and meritocracy are factors of pushing away certain users, while very small number of certain ones stay. Lack of mentorship, role models and encouragement for new users. Need training & specific guidelines on the writing rules and not too much intimidation and deleting of articles that are missing references, but are in general well written (need to find a way to go around it).

Users-related

  1. Some female contributors avoid checking their name as female, bcs there is a different approach to contributors with respect to the sex. Bcs female opinion does not weight as much as male. And because there is harassment & agressivity towards women. (examples given: articles deleted, banned administrators, death threats)
  2. Women have less time than men to spend on volunteer projects. (Example: In Salta, Argentina: traditional, conservative society. Role model for women: to stay home, take care of children & husband -- leaves almost no free time.)
  3. Women have less confidence (self-esteem) when it comes to geeky projects -- women question themselves more than men on their originality, pertinance, and value of their work. (example: when asked do you edit? Men say yes, even if they did once. Women who edit, but not every days, would say "no". : did 1 edit -> editor, women who do not edit every day, not *real* editors)
  4. Less confidence 2 - to defend what they wrote -- to get into fight, to defend, argument. Men often see arguing as a fight, they have to win. For women who contribute, fighting and defending is not important. But then it turns that many of their pages are deleted.
  5. Wikipedia demography - younger, educated, male, single, heterosexual -- sagregated by women's groups. Minority women have less access to contribute & less chances that their knowledge is validated. Same demographics for women are same as for men (more white, young, educated women contribute than women from poorer families, elderly, or of disadvantaged groups).
  6. Age as a variable in the digital gender gap. Young women with higher education do not find education hierarchical. However, women with lower education, do not know how to edit, no confidence, low skills.

In short, while women in general possess less free time for voluntary contributions than men; have less confidence for contributing and defending their viewpoints; lack recognition for their work doing "invisible" tasks, and suffer from same social gender gap online, as in the rest of society.

However, as said Susana Correa, the oldest participant in WikiWomen Camp, "Before knowing how to contribute to Wikipedia, I try to explain users why and what for they should do it". To it, Laura Hale, Australian participant, suggested that time is actully not the issue so much as it masks other types of barriers. "The most important question is WHY should I edit?" If women have a real, worth, time-lasting motivation to edit, time and technology become secondary issues (and solvable).

Therefore, an awareness about the need to contribute, as well as identifying motivating factors that would insight female contributors to participate more actively, could be a way to approach the problem.

***To be continued -- possible solutions for engaging the communty and women into a more valuable discussion on how to diversify the users, and therefore the contents on Wikipedia.***