The women and Wikipedia conundrum

September 20, 2009

A survey shows that a mere 13% of Wikipedia contributers are women. I’ve not looked at the original study yet, but this is consonent with low paticipation by women in a variety of computer related areas. I find it especially disheartening as one might naively have hoped that the low formal barriers to contribution and the relative recentness of Wikipedia as a whole would have produced less skew. The breath of potential topics might also have left sufficient space to overcome skew due to underrepresentation in underlying expertise or interest.

Birte and Uli, both with PhDs in computer science and positions in academia, were unsurprised by this result and attributed it to a difference in willingness to make definitive statements in this extremely public way.

I think that this is a problem and a problem in need of solving. I don’t know what the actual underlying causes are nor how to fix them, but it Wikipedia is th paradigm of collective cultural creation. At least, it certainly holds itself out that way. I shudder to imagine the underrepresentation of other subordinated groups.

Wikipedia’s participation rates could be a symptom of other factors such as a more general underparticipation. There almost certainly are Wikipedia specific factors as well.

It’s a frustrating puzzle.

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