Julia Bear of Stony Brook University’s College of Business and Benjamin Collier of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar published “Where are the Women in Wikipedia? Understanding the Different Psychological Experiences of Men and Women in Wikipedia” in the journal Sex Roles in January 2016.
Those that contribute information and edit Wikipedia, help others on the site, are called Wikipedians, and are online volunteers. So this study relates to virtual volunteering without ever actually saying that phrase.
From the abstract of the paper:
“We proposed that masculine norms for behavior in Wikipedia, which may be further exacerbated by the disinhibiting nature of an online, anonymous environment, lead to different psychological experiences for women and men, which, in turn, explain gender differences in contribution behavior. We hypothesized that, among a sample of individuals who occasionally contribute to Wikipedia, women would report less confidence in their expertise, more discomfort with editing others’ work, and more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men, all of which are crucial aspects of contributing to Wikipedia. We also hypothesized that gender differences in these psychological experiences would explain women’s lower contribution rate compared to men in this sample… Significant gender differences were found in confidence in expertise, discomfort with editing, and response to critical feedback. Women reported less confidence in their expertise, expressed greater discomfort with editing (which typically involves conflict) and reported more negative responses to critical feedback compared to men. Mediation analyses revealed that confidence in expertise and discomfort with editing partially mediated the gender difference in number of articles edited, the standard measure for contribution to Wikipedia. Implications for the gender gap in Wikipedia and in organizations more generally are discussed.”
Their study is summarized in this 02 June 2016 article “Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia?” That article notes that Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the site, said that the organization failed to meet its goal of increasing women’s participation to 25% by 2015, despite launching several initiatives.
This is great information for anyone that works with online volunteers – or wants to. While most reviews of the makeup of online volunteers at organizations, at least in the USA, show more women than men participating, and women providing more hours during their service, Wikipedia attracts far more men in its online volunteer ranks. Your organization might also be unconsciously excluding a particular group of people from participating, and this study can help you think about ways to find that out. Kudos to the Wikimedia Foundation for acknowledging this gender gap problem and wanting to address it.
Information about this study of the gender gap among Wikipedians has been added to the Virtual Volunteering Wiki list of research regarding virtual volunteering, the most comprehensive list you will find anywhere of such, with information about virtual volunteering research dating back to 1997 (though most starts in 2000). Wikipedia’s engagement of online volunteers is talked about in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, available both as a traditional printed book and as a digital book. The book is for anyone that works with volunteers – the marketing manager, the director of client services, and on and on – not just the official manager of volunteers.