[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

Ryan Kaldari rkaldari at wikimedia.org
Fri Jun 18 03:08:45 UTC 2010

I don't think scapegoating Wikipedia's gender imbalances to biological 
differences is especially helpful. And the suggestion that it may not be 
possible to dumb-down Wikipedia enough to attract women is ridiculous 
(and offensive). Regardless of our genetic predispositions, there are 
very real cultural issues that frequently drive female contributors away 
from Wikimedia projects. Many areas of our projects are downright 
while others are just passively sexist:
Not to mention that our trolls seem to favor profiling and harassing 
female editors:

As long as disrespectful and sexist behavior flourishes unchecked, 
editing Wikipedia will probably not be an attractive proposition for 
most women. Unfortunately, this problem seems to be self-perpetuating, 
as the more the gender ratio is skewed, the more the culture of 
Wikipedia will tend to tolerate sexist or mysogynistic behavior, and the 
more women will leave the project. I think instead of trying to figure 
out some magic interface pheromone for women, we should just start 
reaching out to more women directly. It would be great if the 
Foundation's new public policy initiative could do outreach to some 
Women's Studies programs or if we could promote Wikipedia to women's 
tech groups like IBM Women in Technology or the Anita Borg Institute for 
Women and Technology. Any other ideas?

Ryan Kaldari

On 6/16/10 6:04 PM, Gregory Maxwell wrote:
> On Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 8:26 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).
> You may find it interesting that these kind of large imbalances can
> arise out of a simple but surprising mathematical truth:
> If you have a mixed population with a skill, say skateboarding, that
> follows the typical normal distribution and one sub-population (e.g.
> people with red hair) have an average performance only slight higher
> than another sub-population (blondes),  and you were to select the
> best skateboarders out of the group you would end up with a
> surprisingly high concentration of the red-hair subgroup, so high that
> it doesn't at all seem justified by the small difference in average
> performance.
> This is is because in normal distributions the concentration of people
> with a particular skill falls off exponentially away from the average,
> so if you take the two distributions (amount of skateboarding skill
> for red-hairs and blondes) and shift one a very small amount the ratio
> between the two becomes increasingly large as you select for higher
> and higher skill levels.
> The same kind of results happen when, instead of a difference in
> average performance, there is simply a difference in the variation. If
> red-hairs have the same average skate-boarding skill but are less
> consistent— more klutzes _and_ more superstars this has an even larger
> impact than differences in the average, again biasing towards the
> red-hairs.
> These effects can be combined, and if there are multiple supporting
> skills for a task they combine multiplicatively.[*]
> The applicability here is clear: There is a strong biological argument
> justifying greater variance in genetically linked traits in men (due
> to the decrease in genetic redundancy) which is supported by many
> studies which show greater variance in males.  So all things equal any
> time you select for extremes (high or low performing) you will tend to
> tend to end up with a male biased group. (There are small also
> differences in measured averages between men and women in many
> areas...)
> And many of the 'skills' that are reasonable predictions of someone's
> likelihood of being a Wikipedian, if we're even to call them 'skills'
> as many aren't all that flattering,  are obviously male super-abundant
> in the greater world.   How many female obsessive stamp collectors do
> you know? Male?  The kind of obsessive collecting trait is almost so
> exclusively male that it's a cliché, and it's pretty obvious why that
> kind of person would find a calling in Wikipedia.
> One piece of insight that comes out of is that general approaches
> which make Wikipedia more palatable to "average people", as opposed to
> uber-obsessive techobibilo walking-fact-machines,  may have a greater
> impact at reducing gender imbalance than female centric improvements.
> (and may also reduce other non-gender related imbalances, such as our
> age imbalance).  So this gives you an extra reason why "more people to
> edit regardless" is an especially useful approach.
> Though are limits to the amount of main-streaming you can do of an
> academic activity such as encyclopaedia writing. :-)
> In any case, I don't mean to suggest that your work isn't important or
> can't be worthwhile.  Only that I think you're fighting an uphill
> battle against a number of _natural_ (not human originated) biases,
> and I wish you luck!
> [*] A while back I wrote up a longer and highly technical version of
> this explanation as part of an argument on gender imbalances in
> computer science with a mathematician. Anyone into math-wankery may
> find it interesting:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Gmaxwell/mf_compsci
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