This morning I read an article entitled Ride like a girl. In it, the author describes how being a cyclist in a city is like being a woman: Welcome to being vulnerable to the people around you. Welcome to being the exception, not the rule. Welcome to not being in charge. The analogy may not be a perfect fit, but reading these words made me think of a tweet I favorited several weeks ago when #YesAllWomen was trending. A user who goes by the handle @Saradujour wrote: “If you don’t understand why safe spaces are important, the world is probably one big safe space to you.” As I continue interviewing women who edit Wikipedia and as I read through the latest threads on the Gendergap mailing list, I keep asking myself, “How can a community that values transparency create safe spaces? How can we talk about Wikipedia’s gender gap without alienating dissenting voices and potential allies?”

Ride like a girl?

Wikipedia’s gender gap has been widely publicized and documented both on and off Wiki (and on this blog since 1 February 2011). One of the reasons I was drawn to working on the gender gap as a research project was that, despite the generation of a great deal of conversation, there seem to be very few solutions. It is, what Rittel and Webber would call, a “wicked problem.” Even in the midst of the ongoing work of volunteers who spearhead and contribute to endeavors like WikiProject Women scientists, WikiWomen’s History Month, WikiProject Women’s sport and Meetup/ArtandFeminism (to name only a few), the gender gap is a wicked problem a lot of community members–even those dedicated to the topic–seem tired of discussing.

The Women and Wikipedia IEG project is designed to collect and then provide the Wikimedia community with aggregate qualitative and quantitative data that can be used to assess existing efforts to address the gender gap. This data may also be used to guide the design of future interventions or technology enhancements that seek to address the gap. The data may include but not be limited to:

  • Stories of active editors who self-identify as women;
  • Interviews with Wikipedians (including those who represent non-English communities) who have been planning and hosting editing events to address the gender gap;
  • Small focus groups with different genders who participate in events such as meet-ups, edit-a-thons, Wikimania, etc.;
  • Observations of co-located editing and mentoring events designed to address the gender gap–both those sponsored by Wikipedia and those not–such as meet-ups, workshops and edit-a-thons;
  • Participation in and observations of non co-located (e.g., online, virtual) editing and mentoring events designed to address the gender gap;
  • An online survey designed specifically with the gender gap in mind;
  • Longitudinal measures of the success (e.g., the ability to attract and retain new editors who self-identify as women; lasting content created by new editors who self-identify as women; user contribution tracking) of co-located and non co-located events);
  • Content analysis of internal documents (e.g., project pages, talk pages, gender gap mailing list archives, etc.) regarding the gender gap and efforts to address it.

How can a community that values transparency create safe spaces?

This past month I’ve been watching, reading and thinking. I’ve also been revisiting my goals. Now, the first goal I’d like to accomplish is to help reinvigorate the gender gap discussion by creating a central place where the international Wikipedia community can document all of the terrific ideas that have been shared, conversations that have taken place and work that has been done to address the gap. Currently, the conversations are, at times, disparate and dispersed. And, sometimes, they aren’t safe. Often the stakeholders–like cyclists and motorists–have such different goals and values that conflict is inevitable. However, as studies[1] have shown, conflict can be productive and collaborative when differing voices are respected, when policies are thoughtfully constructed and when power is shared.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be updating the Wikimedia Gender gap page with sources I’ve gathered during my literature review and with links to existing projects and conversations. I’ll also continue to recruit participants for interviews and focus groups. If you’d like to participate in any of this work, please let me know. Creating safe spaces is a truly collaborative effort.

Amanda Menking, 2014 Individual Engagement Grantee

  1. Travis Kriplean, Ivan Beschastnikh, David W. McDonald, and Scott A. Golder. 2007. Community, consensus, coercion, control: cs*w or how policy mediates mass participation. In Proceedings of the 2007 international ACM conference on Supporting group work (GROUP ’07). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 167-176. DOI=10.1145/1316624.1316648