Bridging Wikipedia’s gender gap, one article at a time

As the world’s largest and most-used information resource, Wikipedia is home to 6.4 million articles and counting. But despite how comprehensive it seems, 90% of the site’s editors are men, and women are vastly underrepresented as subjects in the encyclopedia. The problem is particularly glaring when it comes to biographical information. Of the 1.5 million biographical articles on the site, less than 20% are about women.

Isabelle Langrock (left) and Sandra González-Bailón.
Isabelle Langrock (left) and Sandra González-Bailón. (Image: Annenberg School for Communication)

A new study co-authored by Isabelle Langrock, a Ph.D. candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication, and Annenberg associate professor Sandra González-Bailón evaluates the work of two prominent feminist movements, finding that while these movements have been effective in adding a large volume of biographical content about women to Wikipedia, such content remains more difficult to find due to structural biases.

When it comes to research on gender gaps in digital information projects like Wikipedia, many studies focus on measuring and mapping the problem, in order to understand its extent and severity. But Langrock, who studies how groups work to create equitable public information online, wants not only to spotlight the problem, but also to offer solutions—including how to make existing feminist efforts more successful.

Langrock and González-Bailón’s study in the Journal of Communication, “The Gender Divide in Wikipedia: Quantifying and Assessing the Impact of Two Feminist Interventions,” looks at two nonprofit groups with similar missions: Art+Feminism is dedicated to adding content about women and nonbinary artists to Wikipedia, while 500 Women Scientists, a nonprofit that aims to improve representation and inclusivity in STEM, creates and edits Wikipedia pages for women scientists as part of its public outreach. Both groups add and update Wikipedia content through “edit-a-thon” events held in library and museum archives, universities, and similar spaces, enabling them to gather as much information as possible from both digital and physical reference materials.

In the study, the researchers measured the outcomes of this work by analyzing more than 11,000 biographical articles, including 3,000 articles that were edited or created at the “edit-a-thons.” In order to measure the interventions’ impact, they compared these articles with 8,000 biographical entries not connected with the edit-a-thons, including profiles of men in professions covered by the interventions (artists and scientists), and women and men in professions with no associated feminist intervention (athletes and politicians).

What they found was that the interventions were successful both in creating new articles about women and increasing article views.

This story is by Alina Ladyzhensky. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.