[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

phoebe ayers phoebe.wiki at gmail.com
Thu Jun 17 07:31:28 UTC 2010

On Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 6:16 PM, George Herbert
<george.herbert at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 5:26 PM, phoebe ayers <phoebe.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
>> There's been discussion of the gender gap among Wikimedia editors on
>> and off for many years now, and it's a focus of the strategic planning
>> process. This is a part of a larger issue of how to get members of
>> underrepresented groups to edit more, to combat system bias on all
>> fronts. (Or, simply how to get more people to edit regardless).
>> I just read this article:
>> "International Collaboration for Women in IT: How to Avoid Reinventing
>> the Wheel"
>> http://iisit.org/Vol7/IISITv7p329-338Craig734.pdf
>> which is about how the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery, an
>> international academic computing membership organization) has a
>> women's interest group -- ACM-W -- which is tasked with increasing
>> women's participation in IT -- an equally daunting task. What's mostly
>> interesting about this article is it describes how ACM-W has an
>> ambassador program, with individuals tasked with increasing
>> participation in various countries. In turn these ambassadors report
>> that one size doesn't fit all -- increasing women's participation in
>> IT depends on a variety of factors, including the general status of
>> women's education in a country, and that the techniques one uses to
>> encourage female participation might vary quite a bit depending on
>> other cultural factors.
>> Of course this is not an earth-shattering conclusion, but it's also
>> clearly applicable to Wikimedia. I haven't seen many papers that take
>> an explicitly international view to the issue of women in IT, so I
>> thought it was interesting.
>> -- phoebe
> In my admittedly sociologically-slightly-impaired IT oriented mind, I
> am not sure that the rationales for people to enter the IT field writ
> large (information technology, computer science, computer engineering,
> etc) match those for people to contribute to Wikipedia.
> However, the generality of opportunity identified there seems useful.

I guess I was thinking more about the commonalities of process: of
encouraging people to do something that requires some education but a
lot more self-motivation, and involves interacting with a somewhat
non-mainstream and sometimes exclusionary culture that may be (to a
greater or lesser degree) hostile to their participation. And what I
found interesting about this paper, even though it's not a great paper
at all, is it gets towards tossing out the idea that how you do that
is similar across the board no matter what, that in fact what it means
to interact with computer culture varies a lot depending on entirely
outside circumstances. I think that we often make this mistake in
Wikimedia too, conflating English Wikipedia culture with the culture
of all of the projects, or forgetting that what it's like to edit on a
small project is very different from what it's like to edit on a big
project, and that how we recruit -- if we are recruiting anyone at all
-- might vary a lot depending on the combination of circumstances the
potential editor is in and what it is they're trying to do.

Like I said, not an earth-shattering conclusion at all, but I've
really never seen it expressed much in the context of the women-in-IT
problem (which could just be a result of my limited reading). And I
don't think we make the case much in Wikimedia either, maybe because
there's such a recognizable set of personality traits that truly
committed wikipedians tend to possess across the board that it often
seems like those traits are the essence of editor-ness.

Greg: I think you're totally right about making things more accessible
to the average person -- by which I think we mean not an
off-the-scale-encyclopedist-geek --  rather than any special group,
and of course you can define average in ways unconnected to gender,
cultural background, age, income level, computer skills, etc. I think
when making broad changes (e.g. usability) we have to trend towards
whatever this average is -- virtually all of our readers get the same
interface experience, after all, no matter what their background might
be. And any improvements that make it easier to edit for this mythical
average population will clearly tend towards benefiting many more
people in all categories. When doing outreach, though, I think we have
to account for the differences. I'd give a different class on
Wikipedia to a bunch of fifth graders than I would to twenty-year-olds
than I would to people my dad's age; but really maybe more than age it
might be their technical proficiency that I have to account for the
most, or their level of academic training, or their general
obsessiveness about facts, or their prior knowledge of what an
encyclopedia is, or whatever. Generalizing *just* about age -- or just
about gender, or a host of other categories -- doesn't really get you
very far in the end. But it is also clear, I think, that we haven't
even reached all of the hyper-geeky people in the world (of any gender
or situation) who might think contributing to wikimedia is really
cool, so even if we're only focusing in on this rather indefinable
subgroup there's still a lot of work to do.

-- phoebe

p.s. Once upon a time I collected stamps too. There's no hope for me, is there?

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