Why are only 13% of Wikipedia contributors women?

And how do we change it? The New York Times reports that only 13% of the hundreds of thousands of Wikipedia contributors are women—and thankfully Wikipedia is determined to do something about it.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.

Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.”

“Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”

Of course, this gender disparity is not exactly surprising. The OpEd Project has found the same general 85-to-15 percent breakdown everywhere from the op-ed pages to the morning talk shows to the United States Congress. And yet, you would think—or at least hope—that a project like Wikipedia that is all about the egalitarian sharing of collective knowledge might not turn out to be quite so male-skewed.

The Times article generally suggests that the problem when it comes to Wikipedia is the same one that plagues the real world: women often aren’t as assertive about putting forth their views. On the other hand, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that men are simply more likely to have the obsessive personalities required to spend hours writing and editing a Wikipedia post and Anna North at Jezebel thinks that a male-dominated “nerd culture” may provide a “web-specific reason” for the disparity. Meanwhile, the anti-feminist blogosphere offers the simplest explanation yet: women just don’t care and are too busy “chatting with [their] friends about all the various boyfriends drifting in and out of their lives.” Yep, that must be it!

What say you Feministing readers? Have you ever contributed to Wikipedia? Why do you think so few women do? And, most importantly, what’s the best way to change that? After all, a huge and ever-growing 42% of American adults turn to Wikipedia for information on every topic under the sun. And without the crumbs of almost half the world’s population, we’re all missing out on a pretty hefty loaf of knowledge.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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