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This Canadian Non-Profit Is Helping To Fix Wikipedia’s Diversity Gap

WIkipedia is the world's most-read encyclopedia, but only one in five of its English biographies are of women.
This Canadian Non-Profit Is Helping To Fix Wikipedia’s Diversity Gap

(Illustration: Isie Yang)

Quick, when was the last time you used Wikipedia? 

Follow-up question: Have you ever been surprised to discover that the site was missing information on the person you were searching for? 

“So many amazing women and other deserving Canadians don’t have Wikipedia profiles,” says Toronto-based technology journalist Takara Small. For instance, Small was shocked to discover that Canadian entrepreneur Joanna Griffiths, founder of the wildly successful intimates brand Knix, didn’t have a profile on the world’s most-read encyclopedia.

The problem isn’t specific to Canadian women. Only one in five of all English biographies published on Wikipedia are of women. Women and racialized people are similarly underrepresented as Wikipedia editors. (A 2022 Community Insights Report notes that one in five Wikipedia contributors surveyed for the report identified as being part of a discriminated group in their country of residence, while one in 10 identified as being part of an “ethnic minority group.” Wikimedia does not currently collect data on the number of Wikipedia biographies of racialized people.)

A photo of a woman in jeans and a beige trench coat sitting in a blue leather arm chair.Takara Small, founder of VentureKids.
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Small is helping to fix that disparity through her non-profit, VentureKids, which provides free STEAM, design and entrepreneurship programs to students and youth. This July, the group will be participating in its third Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, with participants aged 13 to 18 creating pages for previously overlooked Canadian leaders in STEAM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). And Chatelaine is proud to be a partner in this year’s edit-a-thon, pairing with VentureKids to suggest women and racialized people to consider for Wikipedia profiles. (Have a name you’d like to suggest? You can do so here.)

Wikipedia is entirely volunteer run; people from around the world write, edit, debate, fact-check and update every entry on the site. As of 2022, only about 13 percent of the site’s active editors were women. However, this number should start inching upwards as new editors join the site; Wikimedia’s 2023 Community Insights Report notes that 20 percent of Wikipedia “newcomers”—the term the site uses for editors who started contributing to the site in 2021 and later—are women.

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“Edit-a-thons are really important because they help signal to our contributors and administrators that newcomers are part of the process of diversifying Wikipedia,” says Masana Mulaudzi, the Johannesburg-based senior manager of campaign organizing at the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia. 

Interested in being part of the change? Aside from suggesting names for VentureKids’ edit-a-thon, consider becoming an editor yourself. The best way to get started, says Mulaudzi, is by making edits and adding images to improve existing entries.

 “Women’s bios are more likely to rely heavily on their personal lives—for instance, describing them as the ‘wife of X’— rather than their contributions,” she says. “The language around them can be biased, and they’re less likely to have images [which can help the pages receive more search traffic].” 

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From there, you can move onto writing new pages. Not sure where to start? Check out Women in Red’s Redlist Index of notable women who do not have pages on the site. (Note: Content created on Wikipedia needs to be supported by reliable published sources, such as newspaper articles. This can create another barrier for women and racialized people, whose stories can be overlooked by mainstream media.) Profiles are then edited, reviewed and fact-checked by other volunteers before going live. This process typically takes a few weeks.

“Some of the most successful, innovative women of our time aren’t on Wikipedia,” says Small. “It’s time to change that.”

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