Unraveling Wikipedia’s Mystery over Women’s History

David B. Grinberg
Apr 8, 2019 · 10 min read
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Women participate in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Photo Credit: Women’s Media Center

Systemic Sexism vs. Social Norms

Picture this: You’re a distinguished member of academia who just won a coveted Nobel Prize in science. Yet Wikipedia previously rejected you for a biographical page.

  • Put another way: of about 1,615,000 bio pages, fewer than 300,000 relate to women.
  • Moreover, men account for about 90% of all Wikipedia volunteer editors.
  • Women are half the population of the United States.
  • Women comprise half of America’s labor force.
  • Women earn more college degrees than men in the USA.
  • “This has led to Wikipedia having fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women.”
  • “It figures among the most frequent criticisms of Wikipedia, and part of a more general criticism about systemic bias in Wikipedia.”

How can humanity “share in the sum of all knowledge” if a major segment of the population — women — is visibly underrepresented on Wikipedia?

Is the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission a misnomer?

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Image Credit: “Wikimedia Community Engagement Insights Survey 2018, Edward Galvez et al”

Male Dominated

Sex bias on Wikipedia is alarming for many reasons, both in terms of a male dominated work environment and a lack of information about women’s history and related topics.

  • “In the real world there is inequality, therefore Google will display this quite naturally,” said Dolan.
  • “Wikipedia does well through the algorithm, which is high in content. Again, it is male so the search result will return the same.”

Is Wikipedia mired in the Middle Ages or part of the 21st-century Information Age? The jury is still out.

Women in Red

International Women’s Day was March 8.

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Pictured Above: Roger Bamkin. Photo Credit: John Lubbock
  • “There’s no doubt gender bias exists on Wikipedia, but let’s not forget that the systemic bias existed before the internet and Wikipedia was invented.”
  • “Increasing the diversity of editors on Wikipedia is a good thing, but it’s naive to think that increasing the number of women editors is the magic bullet.”
  • “The Library of Congress contains a lot of sources with a lot of knowledge and a lot of bias. Wikipedia is using those sources. But anyone is allowed to fix it on Wikipedia — and we are.”
  • “Five years ago, only about 15 percent of the English-language Wikipedia biographies were about women. Now the number is closer to 17.74 percent. And the project is now active in 13 different language versions, not just English.”

While Women in Red deserves accolades, questions linger about whether progress is being made quickly enough?

Edit-a-thons

Have you heard of a Wiki edit-a-thon?

  • “This will assure that Wikipedia gatekeepers are not rejecting amazing women all over the world across all sectors,” she said.

Should Wikipedia implement a broader and bolder strategy to better balance the quantity of gender-based pages and the composition of female editors with that of men?

Notability Test

Another key variable of the gender equity debate revolves around Wikipedia’s important “Notability” policy.

How noble is Wikipedia’s notability standard?

  • “However, this doesn’t stop us from creating thousands of more articles. Our project has hundreds of lists of women who need articles.”
  • “Sadly, we would need to find a million new articles about women to gain parity…Good ideas and assistance are always welcome.”
  • “Wikipedia combines the lack of diversity endemic to both the technical and journalism worlds, particularly in decision-making positions,” added Levine.

“With few women in the upper levels of management in these key professions, it’s no wonder that women are only faintly visible on Wikipedia.” — Deborah J. Levine

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Washington, D.C.

My Take

The Wikimedia Foundation says it deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding women and diversity. They say Wikipedia’s intentions are indeed noble. They claim the gender gap for women is not their fault.

Critics assert a comprehensive technical overall of Wikipedia’s notability guideline is needed.

  • Why can’t the notability process be revisited and/or revised to be more gender neutral?
  • Why can’t inherent biases within Wikipedia’s structural organization be remedied in a more effective, efficient and expeditious way?

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

David B. Grinberg

Written by

PR consultant & wordsmith on workplace diversity, racial-gender equity, social justice issues | former @USEEOC spokesman | UMD Terps alum, DC-based, NY-bred.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

David B. Grinberg

Written by

PR consultant & wordsmith on workplace diversity, racial-gender equity, social justice issues | former @USEEOC spokesman | UMD Terps alum, DC-based, NY-bred.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

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