Changing the Ratio on Wikipedia

October 4, 2011

4:30 pm

This year, a study by the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that oversees and runs Wikipedia, found that fewer than 1 in 10 editors of the world’s biggest, most popular open knowledge resource are female. This may not seem so alarming to some, but it has others very concerned about how it affects the content of such an important and influential site.

For people not familiar with the inner workings of Wikipedia, most assume that it’s “neutral” in its point of view, but inevitably its content is influenced by the make-up of its editors. Co-founder Jimmy Wales describes the typical Wikipedia editor as a “26-year-old geeky male with a PhD.” This has the unfortunate consequence of leaving Wikipedia lacking in certain topics.

“At the moment,” Wales explained, “we are relatively poor in a few areas; for example, biographies of famous women through history.” 

In response, Amy Senger, CEO and co-founder of the “think blog” 1X57, has launched a grassroots effort to bring greater awareness and understanding to the issue. Drawing up her background and expertise in teaching the intelligence community how to use and edit wikis, she is encouraging events like Women Who Wiki Workshop, which addresses the fundamentals of Wikipedia editing in a fun, social environment.  Senger hosted this event in collaboration with GROW (Girls Rock on the Web) and DC-based creative agency, JESS3, .

And this week, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day (Friday, October 7), which celebrates the achievements of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), Senger is promoting a Facebook campaign for users to change their profile photos to the Wikipedia: Change the Ratio logo (taking a cue from the advocacy site created by Rachel Sklar), and more importantly, to edit, create, or contribute to the Wikipedia page of a woman or women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Senger, who views Wikipedia as a gateway platform to more girls in tech, says that in order to understand the importance of the issue, we need to look no further than the White House’s new initiative to encourage more women and girls into STEM.

“The United States is staring down a possible second recession. Increasingly, our economy and our country’s future depends on our strength in the fields of science and technology. We cannot thrive if we’re operating in the absence of an entire gender.”

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Jen Consalvo is the Cofounder and COO of Tech.Co. She previously worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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