Only one in five biographies on Wikipedia, the world’s fifth-most visited website, are of women. “Women in all fields are underrepresented, articles about women’s interests are underdeveloped, and women are less likely to edit Wikipedia articles,” sociologist Francesca Tripodi wrote in the journal new media & society. “Researchers have also noted the hardships women face when editing Wikipedia, documenting the need to consider safety risks involved before editing certain topics or entering contentious spaces.”
To help redress this, especially for female scholars in the social and behavioral sciences, SAGE Publishing is hosting an inaugural Women in Social & Behavioral Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on March 8, which is International Women’s Day. The free event is both virtual and with in-person opportunities in Washington, D.C., and London. Registration is now open, and organizers note that no previous experience editing on Wikipedia is required – they will provide all necessary training.
“Wikipedia is a representation of knowledge. If you go there, and you don’t see any female representation or role models, it shows an implicit bias in the way things are ordered and prioritized,” communications scholar Joseph Reagle, author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia, was quoted in Harvard Business Review. “That can have a significant effect on people.”
Wikipedia itself acknowledges the problem, and supports actions to address the imbalance, such as through its WikiProject Women in Red.
“We know that articles on Wikipedia are not representative of the impact that women, and BIPOC women in particular, have had throughout history,” the Wikimedia Foundation told the Marketplace radio show. “This imbalance is partly a reflection of the structural and historical inequalities experienced by women around the world. One of the challenges we face is the lack of secondary sources that cover women in the wider media ecosystem. Wikipedia editors rely on these sources including press, academic research, and educational textbooks.”
And it’s not just that women’s presence is missing. Sometimes it’s actively excised, dismissed an “non-notable.” As Tripodi wrote, “My data indicate that biographies about women who meet Wikipedia’s criteria for inclusion are more likely to be considered non-notable than men’s. Because women’s biographies face additional hurdles to remain active pages, groups committed to closing the gender gap must bear that burden.”
Activities for those groups – such as volunteers in the upcoming edit-a-thon – will find themselves creating new posts on female scholars, expanding existing posts or so-called stubs, and reviewing all posts for biased writing. Wikipedia also suggests translating articles from Wikipedia listings in other languages, and supporting nominations of female scientists to be included in vital article collections.
While women all fields are underrepresented, when efforts made to address this imbalance are publicized, the anecdotes tend to feature a woman in STEM. And while this buttresses efforts to get more women into STEM fields, females are in the majority in social and behavioral sciences and yet underrepresented in Wikipedia.
“Through this event,” say the organizers, “we will spread awareness and raise the profile of women scholars doing critical work to advance their disciplines, improve how our sciences are taught, and create solutions to pressing social issues. We will highlight scholars who are marginalized or traditionally overlooked so that their work can benefit academia and beyond.”
Participants can join in the editing virtually or in person at the SAGE offices in Washington, DC (1400 L St. NW) or London (1 Olivers Yard, 55 City Road, EC1Y 1SP). Spaces are limited for those participating in person and registration is required before February 23; food and beverages will be provided. Virtual volunteers are also asked to register beforehand. All volunteers must watch a 75-minute virtual training before participating.
The event itself is three hours, although the skills learned can be used – and shared — forever afterward.
- Virtual participants: 8 – 11 a.m. PT / 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. ET / 4 – 7 p.m. GMT (Zoom link will be provided)
- Washington, D.C., participants: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. ET
- London participants: 2 – 5 p.m. GMT