In the NY Times article Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List, it’s reported that only 13 percent of Wikipedia’s contributors are women. It appears that even on a public online platform men continue to dominate in numbers. Wikipedia is a free information source that is written collaboratively by its users. Anyone who has learned the basic writing skills and has access to the World Wide Web can contribute and edit the pages. If Wikipedia is a collaborative project open to all, then why are fewer than 15 percent of the site’s contributors women?
Jane Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues that Wikipedia is experiencing some of the same problems of the real world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?” she says. Clearly, it’s the men who hold a strong presence in these fields not necessarily because they are more capable or experienced, but because they have had a history of easier access. Women by being a minority group face the challenges of overcoming discrimination and building self-confidence.
The OpEd Project, an organization that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” states that “a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.” However it’s interesting that Wikipedia, which is open to all internet-users and where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same gender gap as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, states that ” many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies.”
Lack of confidence may be one reason, but perhaps a greater factor that isn’t mentioned in this article is how women allocate their time. Women are usually the ones who are involved in housework and taking care of the children in addition to their work outside of the home. It just might be that they prefer to engage in other activities during their free time. Also, they may choose not to contribute to such collaborations because the communication style of online group work does not meet their preferences.
Whatever the reason may be it is clear that women are not equally represented in gathering information, constructing it, and bringing their knowledge to the public, whether it be online or in the real world. This is an issue that needs to be addressed so that society as a whole (not just Wikipedia) can benefit from the discourses of all its members. In this way, knowledge and information will be presented in a more neutral tone.