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Address the gender gap/FAQ

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This FAQ is intended to provide helpful background to discussions about the Gender Gap, and to make it easy to link people to commonly-needed information.

How many women are there on Wikipedia (and other Wikimedia projects)?


Estimates of the percentage of Wikipedians who are female range from 8.5 to 22.7 percent.

  • A widely cited 2008 survey of Wikimedians[1] says 13%
  • A followup study by WMF[2], conducted in 2011 and published in 2012 followup says 9%
  • A 2011 study of gender and wiki activity[3] found 18% female editors
  • Hill and Shaw's 2013 study[4] suggests that in the US, 22.7% of editors are women.
  • The total number of people on Wikipedia is xxxx so the total number of women is in the range of xxxx

Differences by language and country


According to WMF's 2011 survey:[2]

There were no significant variations across the major language Wikipedias, with the exception of the Russian Wikipedia, which reported only 6 percent female editors. Also, out of all editors in the US, 15 percent are women, which is significantly higher than any other country of residence.

According to WMNL's 2013 survey:[5]

Only 6% of the contributors to Wikimedia projects in the Netherlands is a woman

Activity patterns


Account registration


The UNU-MERIT study's report on age and gender differences[6] found that women are less likely to register for an account than men, and posits that this is due to privacy concerns.

Time spent contributing to Wikipedia


The UNU-MERIT study's report on age and gender differences[7] finds significant differences in the amount of time spent contributing to Wikipedia between genders.

While overall female contributors spend more time per week creating Wikipedia content than men do (approximately 0.2 hours more per week), the figures are more interesting when broken down by age groups:

  • Age 10-17: female contribution is 0.1 hours lower
  • Age 18-21: female contribution is 0.5 hours lower
  • Age 22-29: female contribution is 0.4 hours higher
  • Age 30-33: female contribution is 0.1 hours higher
  • Age 34-39: female contribution is 2.2 hours higher
  • Age 40-49: female contribution is 0.9 hours higher
  • Age 50-85: female contribution is 1.2 hours higher

UNU-MERIT notes that women's lower rates of full-time employment may be the cause for them spending more time in the older age brackets.

Types of contributions


A 2011 study of new editors on English Wikipedia[3] found that while genders were fairly balanced among low-volume editors, women were a minority among higher volume editors. Categorising wiki edits by type, they also found that "women made significantly larger revisions involved creative production, synthesis, and reorganization of text."



According to WMF's 2011 survey:

Among editors who had joined in 2011, 14 percent were female compared to 10 percent for 2010, 9 percent for 2009 and 8 percent for editors who had joined in 2008 and participated in this survey. Possible explanations include that Wikipedia has been attracting a higher ratio of women recently, or that female editors leave the project sooner.

The UNU-MERIT study's report on age and gender differences[8] makes several findings about the split between readers, contributors, and ex-contributors by gender.

  • Men responding to the survey were about twice as likely to be a contributor as women.
  • Among the lowest age group (10-17), female ex-contributors (those who used to contribute but no longer do) far outnumber male.
  • Among the oldest age group (50-85), the share of male contributors decreases relative to younger age groups, while the female contributors increase, closing the gender gap slightly among older contributors.

Other demographics


The UNU-MERIT report's section on age and gender differences[9] summarised various demographic information regarding women who responded to the survey, but didn't specifically report on women who edited/contributed to Wikimedia projects.

Its findings included:

  • The share of female Wikipedians decreases continuously with growing age.
  • Women and men are roughly equal in terms of years of formal education, though women are slightly less likely to have advanced degrees than men and more likely to have only a primary level of education,
  • Women are more likely to be in a partnership with a life partner (married, etc.), except in the oldest age brackets.
  • Women are more likely to have children across all age brackets except the youngest (10-17) and oldest (50+).
  • Women are less likely to have full time employment, and are more likely to be employed part time or as freelancers than men (especially age 30 and older).
  • Young women are more likely to be students than young men.
  • Among older respondents (30+), women are more likely to be stay-home parents, and are more likely to be unable to work due to disability.

Are "women's" subjects under-represented or biased?


What are "women's" subjects?


There's no clear way to define what is a "women's" subject on Wikimedia. Several different approaches have been taken to this topic:

  • The UNU-MERIT study's report on age and gender differences among Wikipedia users found significant differences in interest in different fields according to gender. They noted that men are at least three times as likely to be interested in scientific subjects, and that while philosophy, religion, and social sciences are of interest to men and women, women tend to show interest in them at younger ages while men are more interested in them later in life.
  • Various studies have looked at biographies of women on Wikipedia, and these biographies are sometimes used as a proxy for "topics of interest to women."
  • Mainstream media tends to give examples of "women's subjects" based on stereotyped views of women's interests, listing eg. friendship bracelets, Sex and the City, or Kate Middleton's wedding dress as examples. Some commentators have felt that examples of "women's subjects" given in mainstream media are patronising and don't adequately represent women's interests.[10]

When describing "women's" subjects we need to remember:

  • Not all women like the same things. Some women have no interest in fashion or romance, while others do. Some women are interested in military history or Star Wars, while others aren't.
  • However, on average girls/women are socialized differently from men, and this difference is reflected in a different spread of interests across the population.

How is under-representation quantified?


Articles about women, or of interest primarily to women, are under-represented on Wikipedia. There are fewer articles about them, and the articles they have are less well connected.

Research on this topic includes:

  • In 2012, researchers found that the best connected biographies on Wikipedia (in many languages) are almost all men. Of 15 different languages surveyed, 13 had men as the most-connected biography.[11]
  • The International Journal of Communication published research by Joseph Reagle and Lauren Rhue that compared English Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica, and concluded that Wikipedia typically has more articles on women than Britannica in absolute terms, but Wikipedia articles on women were more likely to be missing than articles on men relative to Britannica. That is, Wikipedia dominated Britannica in biographical coverage, but more so when it comes to men. Similarly, one might say that Britannica is more balanced in whom it neglects to cover than Wikipedia. [12]
  • Reviewing a list of male and female scientists from the journal Science's Science Hall of Fame, a Wikipedian researcher found that articles about male scientists were almost all of a higher quality (rated at least "B" on Wikipedia's article quality scale) than women's (all "stub" or "start" class except for the article on Marie Curie). He also notes, "Many of the men in the top 10 ranking come from hard sciences and philosophy, while most of the women come from humanities (especially feminism and psychology/psychiatry)." [13]

As another example, multiple people have written about the lack of women mentioned on "this day in history" pages.[14][15] For instance, an academic historian celebrating women's history month by tweeting an interesting historical fact about women found that English Wikipedia's "this day in history" pages usually had only three or four, or in some cases one or even zero, entries about women.

On English Wikipedia, Wikipedia:Systemic_bias documents the issue of systemic bias (including gender bias). WikiProject Countering systemic bias's primary focus is on selection bias (which articles get created), i.e. under-representation, rather than on bias within articles.

What causes under-representation?


Apart from the disparity in editor numbers, Wikipedia's requirements for Notability and Reliable Sources have been suggested as a cause of systemic bias in who is represented. According to Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam of Post-Colonial Digital Humanities,[16] believe that "Wikipedia reproduces forms of knowledge already implicit in older forms of print knowledge, in which marginalized groups (see: not white, poor, female, queer, disabled) are considered less worthy of representation." Regarding notability, they say:

The qualities for “notability,” again, rely on the weight of already-existing knowledge; knowledge which postcolonial studies writers have systematically argued is racially and culturally charged. To subscribe to this concept of “notability” uncritically has the effect of reproducing uneven social forms of privilege against groups that deserve to be represented.

What gender bias exists within articles?



Sue Gardner points out that systemic bias is linked to gaps in the editing community's expertise:

When Dominique Strauss Kahn was accused of having raped a hotel cleaner, and when Todd Akin made pseudo-scientific claims about rape and pregnancy, many Wikipedians’ discussions were (I thought) remarkably ill-informed. Some editors seemed to believe that false accusations of rape were common. Some didn’t seem to realize that rape is seriously underreported. They didn’t recognize that there’s a body of knowledge on rape that’s well-sourced and reliable.
It took me a while to connect this to systemic bias — to realize that rather than Wikipedians being unusually lacking in knowledge about what rape is and how it works, I might better understand it as me being more-knowledgeable-than-the-average-Wikipedian on the topic. Because I’m a woman, and also a journalist, I’ve followed rape issues pretty closely in the media, I’ve talked about it a fair bit with my female friends, and I’ve read a couple of dozen books and studies on it and related topics. It took me a while to realize that that level of interest, and therefore expertise, is unusual on Wikipedia, presumably at least partly because our editor community skews so heavily male. [17]

Why is under-representation a problem?


It prevents Wikipedia from being a repository of all the world's knowledge


Sue Gardner in NYT:[18] “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.”


It harms Wikipedia's reputation



Why do so few women edit Wikipedia?


Key article: Sue Gardner's 2011 article "Nine Reasons Women Don’t Edit Wikipedia (in their own words)"[19]

The following reasons have all been suggested.

Less available time


Second shift

'She added that women are also more likely to say their lifestyles are simply too hectic to allow for time spent editing Wikipedia. “I’ve had women tell me they are too busy,” Stierch said. “That’s often the most popular.”'[20]

Women reported they were not able to spend as much time on voluntary activities as men. This latter point relates to the “double shift” of female time and is aptly captured in the title of a chapter in Jelena Karanović’s (2008) dissertation: “Free Software Is for Free Men” — taken from the wry observation of a female participant in the French FLOSS community who had numerous family obligations others did not. (from Reagle, "free as in sexist")

"about 30% of both women in general and the highly educated across genders say they “don't have the time”." -- UNU-MERIT report[21] (sadly doesn't mention how many men say this)

Lack of confidence/assertiveness


(quoting from Reagle, "Free as in sexist")

"free culture can be unappealing to those unable or unwilling to hew to the stereotypical features of the online geek (i.e., an identity associated with an intense and narrow interest and argumentative style)."

In the FLOSS context, Dawn Nafus (2012) notes that while it is assumed that “good code would speak for itself”, “in reality authors must vociferously defend their proposed code in order to demonstrate knowledge and establish what good coding is: that is, they must create the truthfulness of code, and thus technology’s edge, through highly masculinized, aggressive online talking” [11].

Delia Passi (2009), responded to the gender gap among Wikipedians by highlighting competitiveness: on Wikipedia one is “declaring one’s expertise over and above the others”. “Women are not less knowledgeable. They are just less interested in sparring with other anonymous experts to prove themselves”.


Less confident with technology


Women are also under-represented in technical fields (computing, etc). For instance, statistics for women in the technology industry range around 20%, with figures in open source software being as low as 2%[22].

This under-representation is not due to any inherent inability[23], but to a complex range of social factors including discouragement from computing at an early age, lack of access to technology, bias in education[24], bias in recruitment and hiring in the technology industry, and a wide range of factors making the technology industry less attractive to them. However, all these factors combine to make women less likely to take up technical careers and hobbies, or to continue them.

Wiki editing requires a certain degree of technical access and facility. Because many of them have less experience with technology, women may disproportionately have difficulty with these technical aspects of Wikipedia. This, in turn, may affect their interest or ability in editing Wikipedia and contributing to other Wikimedia projects.

Difficult-to-navigate rules


The complexity of Wikipedia's rules is discouraging to new or infrequent editors.

A descriptive study[25] that analyzed English language Wikipedia's policies and guidelines up to September 2007 identified 44 official policies and 248 guidelines on English Wikipedia.

In regards to the decline in the number of Wikipedia editors since the 2007 policy changes, another study stated this was partly down to the way "in which newcomers are rudely greeted by automated quality control systems and are overwhelmed by the complexity of the rule system."[26]

The effect of being discouraged by these rules may be multiplied, for women, by the lack of time and/or assertiveness described above.

Aggressive and unwelcoming behaviour

  • These traits — the ability to show off one’s knowledge, to argue over fine (and possibly trivial) points, to correct others publicly — aren’t inherently male or female. Still, they’re often beneficial for men and socially detrimental for women. On the Internet, this shouldn’t matter. No one can see you, and with the right screen name, gender is all but impossible to detect. And, of course, there are tons of women on the Web. But after a lifetime of hearing that they should be polite, non–confrontational and self–deprecating, many women may feel uncomfortable shedding that training to engage in a toad classification debate on Wikipedia ... . (Doyle, 2009) -- quoted in Reagle
  • identified this feature of early online discussion and characterized it as an “an ethic of anarchic self–determination and vigorous debate” that reflects the civil–libertarian ideals and fringe social status of early hackers. And, as with any ideology, “these value systems also serve to rationalize less noble behaviors. Thus, adversarial participants justify intimidation of others and excessive use of bandwidth with rhetoric about freedom, openness, and intellectual vigor” [15]. This then benefits “the most aggressive participants, who happen (not coincidentally) to be male” [16]. -- Reagle
  • “Women are believed not to contribute for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Some of it involves the way women are raised in this gendered society -- we are more averse to conflict, and the Internet is full of jerks. You’re less prone to finding women engaging in heated conversation on the talk pages of hot subjects like abortion and pregnancy." [20]




en:Wikipedia:Sexual harassment policy

  • “Being a woman does make you more of a target for troublemakers, and for certain types of men — largely very young men, who seem to feel threatened by assertive women, and who respond by becoming contemptuous — and then of course we have the out–and–out misogynists, of which we’ve had a few, unfortunately”. Had she ever been personally attacked on a gender/sexual basis? “By Wikipedia trolls and stalkers off–wiki, yes. It has happened a lot. They’ve discussed my appearance, what clothes they think I wear, what kind of bras I wear, whether I fear being raped, whether I’m a whore, whether I’ve had to sleep with men in real life to get jobs” (millosh and SlimVirgin, 2007). -- reagle


Harassment via BLPs:

Are there actual cases of women who don't edit because of the above problems?





What efforts have been made, or could be made to address the gender gap?


Former or existing Wikimedia efforts




Women’s groups


Discussion forums and mailing lists




Conferences and events


Being more hospitable


Countering harassment


(Would be nice to know about adoption by different chapters/events/etc!)







Most of the WikiProjects below aim to improve the representation of women in Wikipedia articles (eg. biographies, history).

Surveys and other research


Research/surveys from within the Wikimedia community include:

Proposals/suggestions from within the Wikimedia community


There have been a lot of proposals/ideas put forward which have not necessarily been implemented. Here are links to a few lists of them:

What efforts have been tried outside of Wikipedia?


There are a variety of efforts that have been made in other communities which have a similar lack of women, which we might want to consider in future. Here is a summary of some of the most common.

Mentoring programs


Targetted training


Financial sponsorship


Are there any documented best practices or HOWTOs for doing things like these?


This section attempts to list major incidents related to the gender gap, systemic bias, or sexism on Wikipedia. These are provided as background and as examples of how such incidents play out in the Wikimedia community.




Categorisation of women authors




Vandalism of Anita Sarkeesian's biography


Chelsea Manning


http://www.hastac.org/blogs/wadewitz/2013/09/03/struggle-over-gender-wikipedia-case-chelsea-manning http://suegardner.org/2013/09/04/how-wikipedia-got-it-wrong-on-chelsea-manning-and-why/

ArbCom GGTF decision


ArbCom Gamergate decision


http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jan/23/wikipedia-bans-editors-from-gender-related-articles-amid-gamergate-controversy http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2015/03/06/3629086/wikipedia-gamergate-war/

Who should be responsible for fixing this problem?

  • It is the responsibility of the Wikimedia Board of Directors to ensure that appropriate policies are in place regarding the governance and operations of the websites, such as a policy regarding online sexual harassment.


  • implicit bias (link to implicit bias training)

Gendered socialisation

  • gendered socialisation and behavioural norms



The concept of meritocracy has been widely criticised as well as being debunked through peer reviewed, quantitative studies, eg:

When an organizational culture promotes meritocracy (compared with when it does not), managers in that organization may ironically show greater bias in favor of men over equally performing women in translating employee performance evaluations into rewards and other key career outcomes; we call this the “paradox of meritocracy.” http://asq.sagepub.com/content/55/4/543.short


  1. http://www.slideshare.net/philipp/unu-merit-wikipedia-survey
  2. a b http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/04/27/nine-out-of-ten-wikipedians-continue-to-be-men/
  3. a b http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~coye/Pubs/Articles/GenderWikiSym2011.pdf
  4. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0065782
  5. Motivaction report translation v02.pdf summary for WMNL from July 2013, page 26
  6. http://web.archive.org/web/20110728182703/http://wikipediasurvey.org/docs/Wikipedia_Age_Gender_30March%202010-FINAL-3.pdf
  7. http://web.archive.org/web/20110728182703/http://wikipediasurvey.org/docs/Wikipedia_Age_Gender_30March%202010-FINAL-3.pdf
  8. http://web.archive.org/web/20110728182703/http://wikipediasurvey.org/docs/Wikipedia_Age_Gender_30March%202010-FINAL-3.pdf
  9. http://web.archive.org/web/20110728182703/http://wikipediasurvey.org/docs/Wikipedia_Age_Gender_30March%202010-FINAL-3.pdf
  10. http://www.themarysue.com/wikipedia-female-writers/#geekosystem
  11. http://www.technologyreview.com/view/427626/the-worrying-consequences-of-the-wikipedia-gender-gap/
  12. Reagle, Joseph; Rhue, Lauren (2011). "Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica". International Journal of Communication (Joseph Reagle & Lauren Rhue) 5: 1138–1158. 
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2011-01-31/The_Science_Hall_of_Fame
  14. http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2013/03/prikipedia-looking-for-the-women-on-wikipedia/
  15. https://news.brown.edu/articles/2013/10/lovelace
  16. http://dhpoco.org/
  17. http://suegardner.org/2013/09/04/how-wikipedia-got-it-wrong-on-chelsea-manning-and-why/
  18. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/business/media/31link.html
  19. http://suegardner.org/2011/02/19/nine-reasons-why-women-dont-edit-wikipedia-in-their-own-words/
  20. a b http://www.ibtimes.com/wikipedias-gender-gap-persists-why-dont-more-women-contribute-online-encyclopedia-1390565
  21. http://web.archive.org/web/20110728182455/http://wikipediasurvey.org/docs/Wikipedia_NonContributors_15March2010-FINAL.pdf
  22. http://flosspols.org/deliverables/FLOSSPOLS-D16-Gender_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.pdf
  23. http://www.slideshare.net/terriko/how-does-biology-explain-the-low-numbers-of-women-in-cs-hint-it-doesnt
  24. Margolis and Fisher, "Unlocking the Clubhouse"
  25. Butler, Brian; Joyce, Elisabeth; Pike, Jacqueline (2008). "Don't look now, but we've created a bureaucracy". p. 1101. doi:10.1145/1357054.1357227. 
  26. Halfaker, A.; Geiger, R. S.; Morgan, J. T.; Riedl, J. (2012). "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia's Reaction to Popularity Is Causing Its Decline". American Behavioral Scientist 57 (5): 664. ISSN 0002-7642. doi:10.1177/0002764212469365.