Submissions/So few women editors: an analysis and proposal

From Wikimania 2012 • Washington, D.C., USA

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no.


Title of the submission
So few women editors: An analysis and proposal
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
Author of the submission
Lynn Hamilton
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)
Recent figures show 87% of Wikipedia's editors are men. [1] To a great extent, this is a cultural problem and not something that is the fault of the Wikipedia community. But does that mean that no outreach efforts should be made to increase the presence of female editors on Wikipedia? This presentation argues that, while Wikipedia has not done anything specifically to alienate women, there is an argument for recruiting women editors.

Let's look first at the most common reasons women do not edit Wikipedia. Note that these observations apply to women living in the United States. Cultural differences are too vast to allow this author to comment on why women in other countries do not edit.

1. By far the most prevalent reason that women do not edit is the role of women in child rearing and the enormous commitment of time involved in raising the next generation. Though times have changed and men are arguably more involved in the raising of children than in previous generations, cultural expectations still assign a majority of parental tasks to women. The assumption is that, even if a woman works, it is her responsibility to choose responsible child care, to make sure that the child is dropped off and picked up from day care, to be available to her child if the child is sick. Studies show, for instance, that mothers are much more likely to take time off from work to be with a sick child then fathers are. [2]

2. Differences in communication styles may make editing on Wikipedia more attractive to men than to women. Although it would be grossly stereotypical (and, more importantly, inaccurate) to say that women are more emotional than men, women do have different communication styles. A recent Mashable study of recurring internet phrases suggests that women "gush" in their emails and posts while men "talk."[3]While this is probably an oversimplification of the problem, it is a shorthand way of understanding why the writing style of Wikipedia might be perceived as dry and uninviting to a lot of women.

3. Women are more likely than men to feel that time spent on the computer degrades the overall quality of life, that it is time taken away from relationships and from being outside in the sunshine.

It is important to reiterate that none of the above problems are the fault of Wikipedia and attempting to redress those problems would fall far outside the mission of Wikipedia. It is also important not to exaggerate the extent to which women are "driven away" from Wikipedia by male editors which I suspect is rare. Also, because editor gender is so often undisclosed, it is a little absurd to argue that women are alienated by the presence of so many male editors and the absence of women.

That said, is it even important to recruit more women to Wikipedia? I would tentatively argue that it is, for the following reasons:

1. Objectivity. Wikipedia places top importance on neutrality and objectivity and, while the objectivities of men and women are hugely overlapping, they are not identical. [4]

2. Civility. Though civility on Wikipedia is not an end in itself, it is recognized as an important conduit for effective editing.

So, how can more women be encouraged to edit on Wikipedia? Perhaps the most important program, already in operation, is Wikipedia's Global Education Program which reaches out to university students, encouraging them to learn how to edit effectively on Wikipedia and become lifetime editors. By reaching out to men and women students equally, this program offers the best hope of, over time, correcting the gender inequities on Wikipedia.

Beyond that, I would propose a program that would reach out to women in their retirement. Women whose children have grown up and left home represent a largely untapped demographic for Wikipedia editing. Such an outreach program could be linked to local Wikipedia meet up groups. If training on Wikipedia were paired with training in computer skills, such outreach could be extremely effective.


  1. Gardner, Sue. "Nine Reasons Women Don't Edit Wikipedia." 19 Feb. 2011.
  2. Audrey VandenHeuvel. "Missing Work to Care for Sick Children." Australian Institute of Family Studies. 34 May 1993.
  3. "What Men and Women Really Want." 13 March 2012.
  4. Rivera, David. "The Power to Define Reality." Psychology Today. 11 October 2010.
* WikiCulture and Community; Research, Analysis, and Education
Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
No, sorry. Can't afford to.
Slides or further information (optional)
Special request as to time of presentations

Interested attendees

If you are interested in attending this session, please sign with your username below. This will help reviewers to decide which sessions are of high interest. Sign with four tildes. (~~~~).

  1. --Poupou l'quourouce (talk) 19:48, 18 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  2. Lvova (talk) 09:50, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  3. --1Veertje (talk) 21:18, 25 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  4. -- Marcus Cyron (talk) 18:40, 21 June 2012 (UTC) - I don't belive in this "gender gap" issue[reply]
  5. Kels.bran (talk) 17:04, 22 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]