Gender equity report 2018/Barriers to equity
We asked interviewees to name one to two issues they see as the biggest obstacles to achieving gender equity in the Wikimedia movement. Across all 65 interviewees, here are the top three responses that surfaced:
Systemic bias in policies
Twenty percent of interviewees identified bias in policies on Wikimedia projects as the most challenging obstacle they face. When asked which policies they saw as presenting the most challenges, Notability, Reliable sources, and policies pertaining to categories were the top three responses.
Interviewees offered critical feedback about the way that Wikimedia policies replicate the systemic biases of the larger culture. Consequently, social groups negatively impacted by these biases are obstructed from full and accurate representation in Wikipedia articles. Here are some of the comments interviewees made about the bias they perceive in policies:
- "Male-defined: that’s the standard for everything. If you try to break that, you are seen at trying to break a universal standard, rather than a real standard."
- “One of the biggest challenges is having people understand how [minimally] women are referenced in the past. Some people who nominate an article for deletion believe that an 18th-century woman needs multiple references to show notability.”
- “I often meet difficulties creating articles on women which were not encyclopedic following the rules created by [my] wikipedia community for biographies.”
Other interviewees offered an intersectional perspective about the challenging impact these policies have on equitable representation of knowledge. Here are some of their comments about the way negative bias impacts not only marginalized genders, but also race, geographic origin and other forms of identity subject to discrimination:
- "Also, it’s such a big job to do. Since history is mainly written by white men, we repeat ourselves. Therefore everything that is written already has been expressed as the truth so you have to fight also against that, and you have to argue why the things that are written is not representative for all humans. This is a fact not only in the wiki project but all written culture."
- "The issue of citations--our history is oral, not digital, not Western, not peer-reviewed journals format."
- "There is a dogmatic view on Neutrality, Notability, and Reliability. Wiki’s organizing policies are principles of the minority of the world--white men sitting in North America and Europe. So whenever anyone challenges these, those organizing principles are thrown back at us as weapons of mass oppression."
- “Notability is a challenge when you are doing any wiki work because of the way it’s structured, it’s geared towards the white male perspective.”
One interviewee described a disciplinary bias that privileges hard sciences: "When we talk about gender we are talking about sociology, e.g. queer theory. People don’t like the social sciences as it is not physics. They don’t understand the research and the methodology."
Finally, interviewees noted that these policies can prove especially challenging for new editors. Mastering Wikimedia policies is a steep learning curve for all new editors, but this problem becomes more pronounced in the context of gender equity projects. In this case, volunteers must wrestle not only with unfamiliarity with a new policy, but also with its tendency to uphold implicit bias against their content areas. As one interviewee put it, “The most common systemic bias come across is notability. That can be discouraging to new editors. We do a lot of training around this up front.”
Lack of awareness / implicit bias within community
Eighteen percent of interviewees identified a lack of awareness about gender inequity within the community as the most challenging obstacle they face. When interviewees explained what makes this lack of awareness challenging, their stories were not about a straightforward lack of exposure to gender equity concepts. Rather, they communicated a more complex experience of implicit bias in which a patriarchal perspective is unconsciously privileged as normal while alternative perspectives are misinterpreted, dismissed, minimized or even outright denied. Here are some of their comments:
- “On-wiki, there isn’t gender balance. There are people who’ll come to your rescue, but there’s a deep desire by the 'old guard'/the 'elders' to 'brush it under the carpet.' 'Don’t be silly, women’s articles aren’t deleted any more than men’s.' There's a patronizing approach... That’s how they talk to you. So you... navigate around it.”
- "[Though there is a] facade of listening to voices in the community, we don’t honor our women contributors, the marginalized community. We cave in to misogyny without recognizing it.”
- "I feel that discussing ‘Gender’ in male dominated areas is not very comfortable one. Say for example, when i discuss about gender issues in my community, they think filling the gap means including more women editors. Well, it is not all about women, but also about the men or genderqueer. It is also about how we are behaving in talk page or village pump. In my experience, i observed men editors become aggressive in discussions. Again women tend to be using more friendly voice and women editors try to avoid conflicts. So when we talk about ‘gender’ it is not just about the ‘sex’ of any editors, but also about their behavior."
- "It is a challenge to explain the idea, how to reach out, and make things clear enough. It’s the terminology. People don’t know what is gender diversity. We need to be clear about what we are doing. "Gender gap"--we expect others will know what that means. But most people don’t know what that is… they say, “Oh, you are a feminist!” but that’s not right."
- "I would share that most of what I have experienced is that editors might think what they are doing as normal, but these norms have to be challenged."
When asked if editors are generally welcome to raise concerns on-wiki around systemic bias, only 37.7% of interviewees said yes. One interview elaborated as follows, "“No. They are not welcome. I don’t think they are addressed effectively. The usual response is “So fix it”, and I don’t think that is necessarily helpful as it reflects the fact that people are unwilling in helping others. [They say]'You want it changed, you go and do it.'”
Poor community health Fourteen percent of interviewees identified poor community health as the most challenging obstacle they face. There are three main areas of concern that were identified: harassment, a general lack of support for gender equity work and a lack of diversity in leadership.
Interviewees described experiences of harassment ranging from microaggressions to more pronounced attacks. Here are some of the stories shared in interviews:
- “I had porn posted to my userpage once as I asked to have someone’s porn story removed from their userpage.”
- “I have had porn email sent to me.”
- “Aggression when discussing biographies of women”
- I had an argument with a veteran editor (Gender gap on Wikipedia article) and it brought a huge amount of attention, attacks, Articles for Deletion. We delete by vote; but they couldn’t erase it, so they decided to attack the content...We were told 'we weren’t being nice.' I have never seen him argue with men that they 'weren’t being nice'."
- “She (referred to as a troll) is also calling me at home. She has a lot of problems. I am the main target, but there are others.”
- “Yes, I have [experienced harassment]. In fact a member of [a Wikimedia chapter] sent me some unnecessary text messages.”
- “I had an aggressive person who said he would phone my employer. It was quite frightening. In the long run, it’s tiring, but at the same time there are other people who make up for that.”
- “There’s the toxic environment every time gender is mentioned. “There are only 2 genders.” “Why are you on my internet site?” They are toxic.”
- “I don’t communicate on-wiki about this stuff. It’s a honey-pot for trolls."
Lack of support for gender equity work
Though there is variation across contexts, a majority of interviewees describe a lack of adequate support for gender equity work. Many interviewees communicated a sense of isolation within the larger Wikimedian community. Here are some of the experiences that were described:
- “When you contacted me [for this interview], I was so glad. It made me realize how low a priority gender diversity was in my community. Though I am hopeless in my community that there will be change, maybe this will influence one person somewhere to contribute on this subject."
- “In [my country], we don’t have a core group [focused on gender equity] yet. We’re trying to build it. I have some support from [a neighboring country]. For example, Art + Feminism has women’s groups who served as mentors. This is because our female members have external pressures. We have to deal with pushback from our community. Women don’t want to expose themselves on issues such as this.”
- "We’ve tried to build up a core group, but it hasn’t been that easy to keep editors. Among the existing female editors, that have been active on wikipedia for years, they aren’t that interested in the whole gender gap issue. But among people we’ve gotten to know in the last couple of years, we have some who have attended several trainings or meetups. But there are very few who have kept on contributing for a longer period. I’m struggling to find a good method to get women to continue showing an interest and do the work."
- "We don’t have any groups related to gender diversity in my community. It’s all about single initiatives. They do the work themselves, and don’t put focus into groups. Maybe one of the reasons is that we lack females in our groups."
Lack of diversity in leadership
We asked interviewees about their perceptions of gender representation in Wikimedia governance. Governance was broadly defined to include affiliate leadership, on-wiki admins, and other common forms of community leadership throughout the movement. A significant majority, 78% of interviewees, said that leadership in the Wikimedia movement is unbalanced, or inequitable, in its representation of genders. Only 18% said they perceive a balanced (equitable) representation of gender identities. These findings strongly point to the need for more efforts to expand the gender diversity of Wikimedia governance.