Go back to article: The history of women in engineering on Wikipedia

Shifting the balance

The Wikipedia pages on women in engineering are insufficient in number and quality. This is not a unique problem as women in other disciplines, such as mathematics, are also poorly represented. Marie Vitulli notes that even esteemed prizewinning notable women mathematicians are missing from the encyclopaedia’s coverage (Vitulli, 2017). Overall, women have been severely underserved by Wikipedia. Despite various pushes from Wikimedia, the charity’s founder Jimmy Wales was forced to admit in 2014 that they had ‘completely failed’ to fix the disappointing coverage of women.[22] Though ‘anyone can edit’ Wikipedia, sociologists Heather Ford and Judy Wajcman have observed that the ‘masculine culture of technoscience’ on Wikipedia means that ‘not everyone does’ and that women are disinclined to participate compared with men, leading to underrepresentation of women and their interests (Ford and Wajcman, 2017).

However, this has not deterred people from continuing to battle for improvement in the Wikipedia gender balance; there are various initiatives to improve the representation of women on Wikipedia. One of the largest is Wikiproject Women in Red, which aims to turn women’s names that are red links (which indicate a page not yet created) into blue links that can be clicked to learn more about notable women. In November 2014, just over fifteen per cent of biography pages on English language Wikipedia were about women. By May 2017, the project had witnessed the creation of more than 45,000 pages about women and as of September 2018, the percentage of biographies about women had grown to 17.79 per cent.[23] This sustained growth of coverage of women indicates that with determination and concerted effort, improvements can be made.

Similarly, Wikiproject Women Scientists was created in 2012 to specifically focus on creating and improving pages on women in science. The creator of this project, Emily Temple-Wood edits under the username ‘Keilana’ and she and the project have had such a remarkable effect on the quality of pages on women scientists that a phenomenon called the ‘Keilana Effect’ was recorded by researchers (Elder and Erhart, 2017). They observed that from 2002 until 2013, the quality of pages on women scientists lagged well behind the average quality on the encyclopaedia. Then, when Keilana publicly announced efforts to improve pages, a shift took place and the quality drastically improved; pages about women scientists are now just more than forty per cent better than the average page.

Figure 5

Graph plotting women scientist quality gap versus year

EpochFail, ‘The Keilana Effect’: this graph demonstrates that focussed attention and energy can directly lead to qualitative improvement of pages on Wikipedia

Some women have discussed how editing is part of their feminist activism, and argue that ‘there needs to be a critical mass of women to actually make changes and be more than token voices that can easily be dismissed’ (Erb, 2016; Kennedy, 2017). Others, such as Maggie MacAulay and Rebecca Visser, have argued that ‘borrowing from corporatized diversity initiatives… [does not] address the underlying reasons behind women’s low representation and participation’ and warn that it is not sufficient to ‘just add women and stir’ (MacAulay and Visser, 2016). Whilst women may find it empowering to edit, and an increase in women editors could quite possibly benefit everyone, women are not responsible for their own under-representation and it should not be incumbent on them to make all of the improvements whilst adapting to a masculine culture. Improving the coverage of women in engineering on Wikipedia would benefit anyone interested in the field and should be achieved through the participation of everyone interested in the field, regardless of gender.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181008/005