Yale volunteers work to close the Wiki gender gap

Men's biographies outnumber those of women on Wikipedia. So Yale students and faculty held an "editathon" Tuesday to make the site more inclusive. 

Susan Haigh/AP
A group of Yale students, professors, and staff gather at the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Conn., July 9, 2019 to hold a Wikipedia "editathon" to create more pages for renowned Yale women and to encourage more women to become Wikipedia editors.

A research scientist who worked at NASA and a chronic disease epidemiologist are just two of Yale University's renowned female graduates, professors, and staff who have gone unmentioned on the pages of Wikipedia.

Dozens of Yale students and staff gathered Tuesday at the Yale School of Management to learn how to give those and many other Yale women their due on the predominantly male, English version of the crowd-sourced, online encyclopedia.

"The marker for success today would be that people walk out of here with a better basic understanding of what Wikipedia editing is, kind of the challenges that women representation faces, and how we can hopefully move the needle up on that," said Amy Kundrat, director of digital at the management school. Ms. Kundrat organized the Wikipedia "editathon," which is a one-day event she hopes will continue.

Wikipedia Foundation, the California-based nonprofit that oversees the technological side of Wikipedia, has welcomed such efforts to make the site more inclusive in terms of the subjects of Wikipedia articles and the editors of those articles.

An estimated 80-to-90% of the website's editors are male, according to the foundation.

"Having people seated at the table that reflects the world is really important to reach a better end result," said Wikipedia Foundation spokeswoman Samantha Lien, noting that Wikipedia's mission is to build the sum of all human knowledge, free for everyone to use.

"When we have a diversity of perspective, articles on Wikipedia are richer," she said, adding how groups are also working to expand the diversity of Wikipedia in other ways, including racially and geographically.

Currently, about 18% of the 1.6 million biographies posted on the English version of Wikipedia are about women, or roughly 300,000, Ms. Lien said. That figure, however, marks an improvement of about 86,000 new articles about women that have been posted over the past few years, due in part to the efforts of volunteer communities like the group at Yale.

Jessica Wade, a British physicist and researcher who writes hundreds of articles a year to get women scientists noticed, said the quality of the articles has also improved dramatically.

"I think the more positive action we take to improve the representation of women and minorities as well as supporting editors from under-represented groups will improve the demographics, both in the biographies and contributors," she said in an email to The Associated Press. "Wikipedia is a phenomenal resource that is all too often taken for granted by those that use it. I think we all have a responsibility to make it better."

Ms. Kundrat came up with the idea of Tuesday's "editathon" after attending a recent summit at Yale about the lack of women from the art world on Wikipedia. She then looked up some of the management school's better-known professors and was surprised they didn't have pages. She then solicited names from the school's alumni office and found many of the female management school alums weren't on Wikipedia either.

"There's just not a lot of representation," she said.

Yale Professor Julia Adams, an historical sociologist, has written about women academics who were not included in academic papers. She said that makes it difficult to refer to them on Wikipedia, which requires cited articles and journals for biographies.

"It is a general problem because often notable women aren't as much in the historical record already, the written historic record," she said.

Patricia Resio, assistant director of the Yale management school's entrepreneurship program, had never contributed to Wikipedia until Tuesday. She was surprised to see that Deborah Rose, a chronic disease epidemiologist who graduated from Yale with undergraduate and graduate degrees in the 1970s, didn't have a Wikipedia page.

"She's had an awesome career. She is just someone who I think is very much deserving of a Wikipedia page," Ms. Resio said. "She's given back to the schools that she's worked with. I believe she even has a building at Yale."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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