Editing Diversity In: Reading Diversity Discourses on Wikipedia

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 By Maggie MacAulay and Rebecca Visser

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 Abstract: Wikipedia has a diversity problem. The encyclopedia that ‘anyone can edit’ can only identify 13% of its editors as women, despite it being the sixth most visited site on the web with over 18 billion page views. Through individual grants, edit-a-thons, blog articles, and international conferences, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has devoted a fair amount of time and resources into tackling this ‘gender gap’. While we acknowledge the good intentions of the WMF and volunteer efforts to improve conditions for women on the site, we contend that the WMF promotes a branded, neoliberal diversity model that works to support its organizational growth. Informed by Sara Ahmed’s critique of diversity initiatives in post-secondary institutions (2012), we identify three common themes: 1) diversity as converging business principles with the language of social justice; 2) model minorities as the inhabitants of promotional cultures; and 3) diversity work as work and work as a choice. We wish to challenge this by reimagining the meaning of diversity and proposing practical and political alternatives to the increasingly corporatized solution of ‘just add women and stir.’

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 3 Diversity, diversity, diversity. This has become part of the institutional clarion call for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and has also become a part of technology companies’ organizational missions. The emphasis on diversity in STEM has emerged from the recognition that despite the institutionalization of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity policies in education and employment sectors, the demographic composition of employees and workers remains overwhelmingly white and male. Several women in STEM fields, a vocal, and well-organized minority, have called for transparency and accountability by demanding that institutions release their diversity figures and make commitments to recruiting more female talent. Several prominent social media companies have followed suit, with actors like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn appearing to make diversity an organizational priority. Most recently, the content-sharing platform Pinterest has announced hiring goals as part of its diversity initiative, pinning down an engineering workforce composed of 30% women and 8% underrepresented minorities. Women in prominent tech leadership positions like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg become inspirational figures for young women in STEM, shattering the glass ceiling by leaning in (or sleeping under their desks).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 We know the problem is partly one of recruitment but also one of retention. The metaphor of ‘leaky pipelines’ is used to illustrate that due to personal ‘choices’ (like child-rearing), women tend to ‘fall out’ of STEM fields at a faster and higher rate than their male colleagues (Herman & Webster, 2007). Finding ways to fill these gaps, a number of researchers have also identified that the culture of STEM discourages women from entering and staying: Competitive environments, long and intensive periods of work, and a heavy drinking culture make it difficult for women to achieve that desired work-life balance while their biological clocks are ticking, and the ‘chilly climate’ has been well-documented. More candid accounts of this chilliness document a ‘brogrammer’ culture of sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, and exclusion– what many tech companies strategically reframe as ‘unconscious bias.’ In response, a number of institutions host and sponsor training seminars, professional development workshops, networking events, retreats, and keynote-led conferences for women in STEM to help challenge stereotypes and empower them to go boldly where no woman has gone before.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 3 These inequities and restorative measures are not only being used by corporate tech companies but by non-profit ones, as well. The Wikimedia Foundation (herein WMF), who manages Wikipedia, has made gender diversity part of their mission since finding out the significant editing disparities on the encyclopedia branded as the‘sum of all knowledge.’ In response to a decline in the number of editors and concerns over the quality of contributions, the Wikimedia Foundation paired up with UN University to survey Wikipedians for the first time in 2008. They were surprised when they found that online encyclopedia- the sixth most visited website on the planet (trailing for-profit giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo), written in 287 languages, with 18 billion page views, and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month– could only identify 13% of its editors as women. Since then, academics and journalists have identified other ‘gender gaps’ on Wikipedia, including a disparity in the number of articles written by women as well as the coverage of important women and articles presumed to be of importance to them (Lam et al. 2011; Reagle and Rhue 2011; Eckert & Stine, 2013). Of equal concern has been the encyclopedia’s cultural bias, where English-language articles written by, for, and starring white Western men vastly outnumber global perspectives (Livingstone 2010; Graham 2009; Cohen 2011b). Wikipedia’s gender and racial politics have even been documented in this journal, with feminist academics describing ‘Wikistorming’ as praxis (Juhasz & Balsamo, 2012), firsthand accounts of Wikipedia’s misogynistic infopolitics (Peake, 2015), and insider perspectives on the challenges and queer possibilities of the encyclopaedia (Raval, 2014).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The WMF has responded to this news as most institutions do- by vowing to do better. Identifying the gender gap as ‘systemic bias’ that ‘naturally grows from its contributors’ demographic groups’ and ‘results in an imbalanced coverage of subjects on Wikipedia’, the WMF set out ambitious goals: increase women’s participation to 25% by 2015, with the hope of achieving gender parity in the future (Cohen 2011a). The WMF has also invested significant effort into understanding the reasons why women do not contribute. Compiling responses from women across various Internet fora, former WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner listed the following reasons:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 an editing interface that was not user-friendly
a lack of free time and self-confidence
aversion to conflict and a distaste for participating in edit wars
the belief that their contributions would be reverted or deleted
a misogynistic and overly sexualized environment
an unwelcoming atmosphere for newcomers

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 The WMF has supported several efforts and initiatives to smooth over this gender gap and ‘edit diversity in.’ In 2012, Wikipedia began rolling out its VisualEditor, a WYSIWYG extension designed to make editing more accessible for newcomers. [1] Volunteer-led task forces (i.e. Gender Gap Task Force, Global Perspectives Task Force) have also been actively working to identify and discuss diversity problems and solutions, while various members of the Wikimedia “movement” collaborated on the Teahouse project, a peer-based learning environment designed specifically to attract and retain women newcomers. The WMF has also supported various community-building events, with meetups, parties, and edit-a-thons as notable examples. Most recently, the WMF launched its Inspire campaign, funding 16 new crowd-sourced projects designed to improve its gender gap. Its rationale for supporting these activities is clear: More women contributors will reduce the gender bias, thus enhancing the quality of the encyclopedia.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 While we acknowledge the WMF’s well-intentioned efforts, it is the wedding of institutional goals with political ones under the tent of diversity that is the substantive focus of our essay. We argue that rather than work to challenge the gendered politics of Wikipedia, the WMF promotes a branded, neoliberal diversity model that is more about generating good public relations and supporting organizational growth. Examining its public communication through its blog postings, reports, and initiatives, we assess what the WMF is talking about when it comes to women and diversity. Informed by Sara Ahmed’s critique of diversity initiatives in post-secondary institutions (2012), we identify three common themes: 1) diversity as converging business principles with the language of social justice; 2) model minorities as the inhabitants of promotional cultures; 3) diversity work as work and work as choice. In many ways, women become the WMF’s handmaidens, filling in its ‘gender gaps’, ironing out its accessibility issues, and weaving together initiatives aimed to improve the quality of the encyclopedia while ‘softening’ its image. We wish to challenge this by reimagining the meaning of diversity and proposing practical and political alternatives to the increasingly corporatized solution of ‘just add women and stir’ (Harding, 1986). We suggest that democratizing STEM might be a more viable solution than diversifying it and wish to re-situate feminist critiques of technology in the context of challenging rather than affirming techno-capitalism. While the siren call of Silicon Valley may tell us we can simply lean in and pull ourselves up by our bra straps, instead we propose a more collective model of action that pulls on the levers of techno-power.

Including Sara Ahmed

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 3 This essay draws on Sara Ahmed’s important and timely On Being Included (2012). Taking a phenomenological approach to diversity work in post-secondary institutions in Australia and the UK, Ahmed’s work draws upon interviews with diversity practitioners, documentary analysis of diversity policies and her personal experience as a committee member on various diversity boards. Informed by feminist of colour critiques of diversity in educational institutions (Mohanty 2003; Alexander 2005), On Being Included (hereafter referred to as Included) describes diversity as an institutional performance where universities operate under the guise of ‘doing something’ while failing to adequately address or even name the problem of racism. While Included focuses specifically on race, we believe that Ahmed’s analysis is also applicable to gender politics within institutions. While not to imply that race and gender are analogous, we echo Judith Butler’s claim that such categories ‘work as background for one another, and they often find their most powerful articulation with one another’ (1999, vxi). It is also worth mentioning that while Included targets the modern, corporatized university, Ahmed’s analysis is relevant for most any modern organization attempting to ‘do good’ through diversity. As a non-profit institution organized around disseminating knowledge for the public good, the WMF shares many similarities to a university that promotes itself as a bastion of progressiveness and social change – even as its tactics and strategies seem retrograde and hegemonic.

Diversity as Value-Added Service

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Included builds on the critical diversity literature that identifies the institutional push to diversity as the convergence of business principles with the language of social movements. For such institutions, diversity becomes a way of ‘accruing value, [of adding] value to something’ (p. 58). This value is undoubtedly economic, as diversity gained traction within the management literature of the 1980s (Herring, 2013). Predicting that the information economy of the 21st century would require a diversity of skill sets, practitioners proposed that organizations would have to diversify the demographic composition of the workforce to remain competitive. This became part of the ‘business case’ for diversity, where it was assumed that heterogeneous workforces would somehow be more productive than homogenous ones. Moreover, as a response to an ever-globalized workforce, forming diverse teams able to collaborate and capitalize on difference would help support innovation and creativity (Blackmore, 2006). Such managerial rhetoric also appropriated the language of social movements while muting their political power. Ahmed and others have rightly pointed out that the language of diversity has emerged amidst the departure of other important concepts such as equity, social justice, and anti-racism (2012, p. 1; see also Bacchi, 2000). Ellen Berrey (2007) even argues that the language of diversity was a neoliberal response to reactionary backlashes against affirmative action, ‘softening’ the language to make it more acceptable to whites. Under this equality regime, under-representation and invisibility become the causes rather than the symptoms of inequity, and the solution is found in diversity initiatives. However, rather than address the structural and cultural barriers that prevent minorities’ full and equal participation in education and employment through collective action, these initiatives follow a liberal politics of recognition that equate representation with participation and visibility with power.

Counting Diversity

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 1 Diversity counts play an important role in institutional life, as the language of metrics is part of an audit culture (Power, 1994) used to ‘sell’ diversity as part of an organization’s branding and mission. Ahmed traces this back to the work of Jean-François Lyotard (1984), who describes how institutions of higher education have increasingly shifted to a utility model focused on saleability and efficiency rather than learning. The ongoing bureaucratization of public institutions makes it so that diversity is calculated and budgeted, with organizations using the data to set goals for growth and improvement. Borrowed from the private sector (in particular, from finance), these regulatory and accountability systems make institutions so aware of the possibility for audits that they become more concerned with achieving numbers than improving systems. Diversity documents then become technologies that work in the service of audit cultures rather than communicating some underlying philosophy. The act of counting the number of underrepresented groups becomes a form of institutional performance that communicates how ‘well’ or ‘poorly’ it is doing. Diversity numbers can also act as a catalyst for institutions to do something, even as the institution is already observed to be ‘doing something’ by admitting that they have not been doing ‘enough.’

Model Minorities: The Brand Ambassadors of Diversity

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 3 Increasingly, institutions brand their diversity efforts through so-called ‘diversity champions’. Embodying diversity since they do not represent the mainstream, their faces and bodies are plastered across promotional materials and showcased at events as a way for institutions to imagine themselves as already ‘‘being diverse’’ (Ahmed, 2012, p. 153). Accordingly, their ‘success’ stories are branded as part of the narrative of the institution’s success– of ‘overcoming’ the obstacles as if they are over. As celebratory as this rhetoric of inclusion is, Ahmed classifies it as selective and conditional. Institutions select model minorities to be diversity champions precisely because they embody ‘respectable differences — those forms of difference that can be incorporated into the national body’ (p. 151). Grateful to be included and reluctant to challenge power, cause trouble, or compromise the institution’s ‘happy narrative’ of diversity by drawing attention to any unhappy ones, the model minority becomes complicit in the institution’s erasure of inequities. Ahmed acknowledges that the institution gives them little choice since they soon learn that ‘to talk about racism is thus to be heard as making rather than exposing the problem: to talk about racism is to become the problem you pose’ (p. 153). Since they are eager to make a change and do not wish to ‘confirm’ raced and gendered stereotypes about speaking up and out (such as being labelled an ‘angry’ woman of colour), model minorities mute themselves and may even distance themselves from their more radical colleagues. They do this because they have witnessed see the consequences others face when they speak up and out – those identities and bodies are scorned, silenced and cast off. ‘We learn over time that the condition of [the institution’s] commitment is that we would in turn speak about their commitment in positive terms,’ Ahmed observes, ‘which means we do not speak about anything that exposes the conditions of their commitment’ (p. 154).

Institutional Performance Cultures

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 2 Institutional personhood is a common narrative within neoliberal discourse, and the ways institutions achieve this is by performing humanness and uttering speech acts (Ahmed, 2012, p. 54). If the institution is racist, personhood allows it to be regarded as an individual ‘suffering’ from prejudice who can be treated with the therapeutic ethos of diversity discourses (p. 45). Institutions that admit their lack of diversity effectively utter confessions that set off a ‘narrative of repair’ (p. 17), expressing contrition regarding their ‘sins’ and vowing to ‘do better’ using the language of commitments. Such acts tend to be uttered by institutional representatives and involve a great deal of naming qualities and narrating actions. Saying ‘diversity is important to us’ or ‘we welcome diversity’ becomes part of the institution’s rhetoric, done partly to remain competitive with the others making that claim (p. 57-58). Ahmed suggests that this lip service model emphasizes the value and appearance of being diverse, with the hope that if ‘uttered by the right person, to the right people, in a way that takes the right form’ it will ‘stick’ (p. 116). Remixing philosopher John Austin’s (1962) model of performative and non-performative utterances, Ahmed describes such acts as non-performatives. [2] Ahmed (2012) contrasts her version against Austin’s, who describes these as unhappy. For Ahmed, ‘the failure of the speech act to do what it says is not a failure of intent or even circumstance but is actually what the speech act is doing. Such speech acts are taken up as if they are performatives (as if they have brought about the effects they name), such that the names come to stand in for the effects. As a result, naming can be a way of not bringing something into effect’ (p. 117). ‘We are committed to enrolling x% of [group y]’, the institution may claim, and publics may be convinced that this is happening because the institution has said so. ‘The ease or easiness in which diversity becomes description shows how diversity can be a way of not doing anything,’ Ahmed observes, ‘if we take saying diversity as if it is doing diversity, then saying diversity can be a way of not doing diversity’ (p. 121). Because the institution has encouraged us to identify it and empathize with its ‘plight’, we begin to soften our critiques and our demands – after all, it is ‘doing something’, it is trying.

Working Diversity

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 But what is the institution doing and how hard is it actually trying? Moreover, which institutional actors are is tasked with the work of doing and trying? Ahmed observes that for institutions to actually meet their commitments, there must be people able and willing to work toward them (p. 120). Ahmed identifies these actors—diversity workers— as institutional plumbers who ‘develop an expertise in how and where things get stuck’ (2012, p. 32). These plumbers tend to represent identities and bodies already coded as ‘diverse,’ who have an experiential understanding of the nature and scope of the problem. Taking on this work ‘so that others not only do not have to ‘‘have it’’ but can actually give it up’ (p. 136), diversity workers tend to take on the responsibility of administrators without having the power to bring about the kinds of changes they know are required. Thus, it is not the labor of diversity workers that Ahmed critiques; on the contrary, Ahmed acknowledges its necessity and value. It is the uneven distribution of commitment, responsibility, and labor within the institution that is the problem— institutions that claim to value diversity when the work itself is so devalued.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 How do we know diversity work is devalued? Ahmed (2012) suggests this is the case by pointing out how efforts are regularly funnelled into activities that divert political energy away from confronting the problem. The administrative task of writing documents becomes the focus of diversity committees, who ‘end up doing the document rather than doing the doing’ (p. 86). Consultation with those coded as ‘diverse’ represents another diversionary tactic. Here, the identities and bodies of those consulted are used to lend credibility to a document, regardless of whether that document actually represents their needs and interests (p. 94). Through audit processes like ‘body counts’, diversity workers are assigned the task of ‘changing the perception of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of the organization’(p. 184). With these activities serving as necessary but insufficient conditions for meaningful change, it is clear that many diversity initiatives are doing something else quite different than what they claim to be doing.

Promoting Diversity Online: The Case of the Wikimedia Foundation

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 We use Ahmed’s (2012) work on diversity work in institutions to help situate our critical feminist analysis of how the WMF operationalizes diversity when it comes to women. Conducting a thematic analysis of the WMF’s blog (Cain & Dillon, 2003), we pay close attention to how WMF’s diversity talk converges the language of business and social movements. We selected blogs because they are important public relations tools that institutions use to support activities like disclosure, news dissemination, and event promotion while also branding themselves as sites of community, commitment, and collaboration (Greenberg & MacAulay, 2009). Blogs can also be understood as part of the performance cultures Ahmed describes, and we drew inspiration from her assertion that ‘if organizations are saying what they are doing, then you can show they are not doing what they are saying’ (2012, p. 121).

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In order to determine what the WMF is saying and not doing, we performed a search of their blog using the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘women.’ Our query generated 63 results as of 3 August 2015, with the blog posts containing an assortment of profiles on notable Wikipedians, descriptions of initiatives and campaigns, summaries of events, and reports. We read through the content together, discussed our observations, and selected the most prominent themes for analysis. Our analysis is primarily qualitative and our goal was neither to provide a systematic review nor a comprehensive account of all of the WMF’s diversity activities. For the scope of this article, we deliberately limited our analysis to women and diversity, recognizing and recommending that future work explores how the WMF and other tech organizations define diversity with respect to the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexuality, class, and disability. We organized our findings into three themes: 1) diversity as converging business principles with the language of social justice; 2) model minorities as the ambassadors of promotional cultures; 3) diversity work as gendered.

Diversity as business and social justice language

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Throughout our reading of the WMF’s blog, it was clear to us that diversity as a way of ‘doing good’ served both social justice and organizational growth. We observed how often the WMF used the language of missions and movements in its public communication. In their Mission Statement, the WMF aims to ‘empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally’, while it defines its Wikimedia Movement as comprised of ‘people and groups of people sharing common goals and activities with regard to creating and supporting free knowledge educative content’.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 1 WMF’s use of diversity initiatives to support organizational growth was clear upon closer inspection. In one post, the Foundation explains that ‘addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap is, at its core, about widening representation and incorporating more perspectives into the sum of human knowledge’ (Bouterse, 2012). Although we do not deny that broadening the scope of representation and knowledge are important, it is clear that diversity is also about enhancing institutional performance. In a call for women interns, another post states: ‘diversity is good for creativity and sustainability, which are primary goals of any free software community’ (Gil, 2013a). By framing diversity as a means to an end rather than an end of itself, the WMF attempts to use diversity to help the institution grow rather than grow the institution to accommodate diverse perspectives.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 It also became clear to us that WMF’s model of diversity was a branded one that assumed any category of difference (i.e. gender, race/ethnicity, geography) could be assimilated in the same way. After the WMF’s first diversity conference in Berlin in 2012, Director of Community Resources Siko Bouterse (2013) described how groups discussed ‘the need, challenges and solutions for bringing more diversity – in terms of gender, geography, and beyond – to our community and to our content, in order to fulfill our vision of sharing the sum of all human knowledge with the world’. This happy model of multiculturalism was perhaps made most explicit in the blog post ‘Meet Some of the Women Who Edit Wikipedia‘ (Sherman et al., 2015). Featuring a Russian biology student, an Indian math teacher and a Swiss community leader, this profile of 11 women was reminiscent of a ‘food stall model’ (Ahmed, 2012) of diversity that is celebratory, consumable, and branded.

Model Minorities

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 1 The use of women as model minorities is another important part of the WMF’s diversity narrative. Based on our reading of the demographics of the women featured in our sample, it was clear to us that the WMF’s brand of diversity was embodied mainly by white Western women, and occasionally, by women representing the Global South. Women are used to help ‘soften’ the institution’s image by exuding a friendly and non-threatening version of femininity. In a post describing the redesign of the Wikipedia Teahouse, Bouterse (2012) explains that many elements were kept intact to maintain the ‘emotional connection users have with these pages on Wikipedia.’ The Teahouse becomes as a ‘softer entry point to Wikipedia, where you can see there are other humans, and they’re the ones talking to you.’ Gendered notions of patience, support and gratitude help feminize and give the space a spa-like quality, as the hosts ‘give patient and supportive answers to all kinds of questions’ to the ‘guests’ described as ‘thankful.’

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 2 We read the WMF’s discursive construction of the woman model minority as a smart and committed actor who is aware of Wikipedia’s woman problem but shies away from being angry or confrontational about it. ‘I don’t want to deal with it from a feminist perspective,’ states one woman at an Egyptian edit-a-thon, ‘but women must have the same place in history like men’ (El-Sharbaty, 2014). [3, 4] This muted discourses mirrors language used by upper management. In a blog post on Wikipedia’s so-called gender gap, former Executive Director Sue Gardner is quoted as admitting that the ‘gender skew is particularly bad, so even though I feel uncomfortable paying special attention to it, I believe it’s probably defensible’ (in Ross, 2011). Using neutralizing language to refer to the underrepresentation of women as a ‘gender skew,’ Gardner’s reluctance to actually name sexism or feminism suggests that such terms are institutionally unspeakable.

Digital Handmaidens: The Gendered Nature of Diversity Work

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 We also observed how women’s editing practices were gendered, and how liberation was tied to work. In a profile of prominent Wikipedian Emily Temple-Wood, she transmutes her righteous feminist anger about underrepresentation into content: ‘I got pissed and wrote an article that night,’ she recalls. ‘I literally sat in the hallway in the dorm until 2 am writing the first women in science (Wikipedia) article’ (Chang, 2013). Temple-Wood very much embodies the WMF’s ideal woman as she takes on the role of Wikipedia caretaker and caregiver, her own language resembling that of the institution’s: ‘We need a diversity in opinions … to survive,’ she states. ‘We need diversity of subject authors to survive to become the sum of human knowledge’ (Chang, 2013). Sacrificing personal achievement to contribute unpaid labour, Temple-Wood states that if Wikipedia did not exist, ‘I’d work in a lab and volunteer in my community. My mom says that…I’d have written a book by now’ (Chang, 2013). Although the WMF supports women who wish to contribute to the recognition of other women on Wikipedia, it celebrates most those who do so unpaid.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Women’s paid work was framed differently. Although women like Temple-Wood ‘edit diversity in’ for free, those paid by the WMF to represent ‘diversity’ do something different — they enhance its infrastructure. In a post describing the women interns recruited through the WMF’s Outreach Program for Women (OPW) (Gil, 2013b), their ‘success stories’ are used as ‘evidence’ for the initiative’s ‘success’. We observed that their labour seemed remarkably gendered. Embodying the normalisation of women workers’ flexibility and precarity in the information economy (Gregg, 2008), the women interns seemed to be performing digital ‘housekeeping duties’ that included enhancing the user experience, project management, documentation, ‘polishing’ MediaWiki extensions, development, and checking for bugs. Although we acknowledge that men also perform this labour, we found it interesting that this kind of work was somehow used as an example of ‘diversity’ working.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 1 We also observed some obfuscating language at play. Illustrating Sara Ahmed’s version of a non-performative, one post describes the OPW as ‘playing an important role in bridging the gender gap in our technical community,’ even as it is later revealed that only 1 of the 32 students mentored was a woman — and that she ‘didn’t stick around’ (Gil, 2013b). Although it is never explained why the lone woman intern ‘didn’t stick around’, it appears not to matter because this post is used to demonstrate how the WMF strives to ‘do better.’ Emphasizing the individual benefits of internships and mentioning the current cohort of women interns, Gil suggests that they seem to be ‘sticking around—A promising trend!’ (2013b). Using temporary employees as a metric for how ‘well’ they are performing diversity, the WMF succeeds according to its very narrow and limited parameters.

From Leaning In to Stepping Back: A Look at Alternatives

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 2 So what are we to make of the WMF’s diversity initiatives, and are there prospects for alternatives? We suggest there is, and the first thing we can do is revisit what we mean by diversity and what we hope it will achieve. It has been suggested that reframing diversity to focus on retention rather than recruitment may be helpful. Such a move would tell us a different story about Wikipedia edit-a-thons, for example. One evaluation of editor recruitment and retention in 2013 suggested that of the 328 edit-a-thon participants surveyed, only three were still actively editing after six months. If the WMF wishes to market itself as a ‘movement,’ then perhaps it is time for it to revisit what makes a movement sustainable—long-term commitment from a range of individual and institutional actors, and a genuine commitment to changing tactics when it is clear they are not meeting their goals.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Although most institutions favor ‘assets-based’ approaches to measuring diversity, it may also be time for the WMF to take stock of its deficits and the underlying reasons. A look at hashtag campaigns on social media is useful. Take the example of #realdiversitynumbers, a campaign created by software engineer Erica Baker during the summer of 2015. #realdiversitynumbers turns the ‘happy narrative’ of diversity on its head by asking ‘unhappy’ questions like how many employees of color see opportunities for career advancement, the rates of promotion among women and men, rates of pay for cafeteria workers and custodial staff, and the financial burdens faced by people with disabilities who may not qualify for health insurance discounts. These questions ask technology companies for more than diversity branding and self-promotion— they ask for accountability and political commitment to diverse identities and bodies.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 2 WMF may define it’s ‘woman problem’ as a supply issue, but based on our own personal experiences as contributors and the comments of other women editors, it is clear that the problem is also cultural. Replying to a post about the Inspire campaign, user ‘Carol Moore’ comments that while she thinks Inspire initiatives are a good idea, ‘we can’t keep just ignoring the biggest problem,’ which she identifies as men who trivialize women’s issues on Wikipedia (Bouterse & Wang, 2015). Describing these users as territorial (‘they just don’t like women coming into their ‘turf’) and sexist, she claims that they either ignore women’s contributions or unfairly criticize them if they disagree. Although she acknowledges that some men may object to these behaviours, she states that most of them do nothing to challenge them. Identifying sexism among editors, administrators, arbitrators, ‘and probably too many Wikimedia Foundation employees,’ she wants system rather than individual change. She argues that upper management ought to take more action if it is truly committed to changing the gender composition of its editorship.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Acknowledging the problem and yet doing little to stop it seems a common institutional behavior for the WMF. It is worthwhile for us as feminists to read between the lines when it comes to the Foundation and its stance on Wikipedia’s allegedly neutral practices and policies. Consider the Foundation’s decidedly hands-off position when it comes to Gamergate. Gaters may claim that their struggle is about ethics in video game journalism, but their actions suggest that they are more interested in defaming, blaming, and silencing women who speak out against sexism in gaming. On Wikipedia, the pages of women journalists, developers, and critics like Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Zoe Quinn have been repeatedly vandalized, with the media coverage acting as a cautionary tale that discourages women from speaking up and out.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 The WMF’s hands-off stance in this matter seems at odds with their claim that they want more women editors; in fact, what it really seems is that they want more women who will not question, challenge, or confront sexism online. This, at least, appears to be the case with its defense of Wikipedia’s ArbCom decision to suspend or ban a number of editors from editing anything related to Gamergate and ‘gender or sexuality, broadly construed.’ Although the decision sanctioned a number of users who had participated in sexist behaviour online, it also silenced a number of editors (women and men) who had been actively speaking out against it. In their decision, the ArbCom made the classic mistake of assuming that ‘equal’ means ‘same,’ and invoked the same bureaucratic principle to discipline sexist voices as it did critical ones— the rule of civility. Although we acknowledge that the ArbCom is not the WMF, we were disappointed to see the WMF support their decision. In a public statement, WMF Community Advocacy Director Philippe Beaudette (2015) characterized civility as an ‘important concept’ that allows ‘people to collaborate and disagree constructively even on difficult topics. It ensures people are able to focus their energy on what really matters: building a collaborative free encyclopedia for the world.’ It seemed odd to us how an organization that claimed to value gender diversity would so easily turn its back on groups of users clearly identifying the nature and scope of the problem—sexism.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 1 Framing ‘incivility’ rather than sexism as the problem, the WMF makes clear whose interests it values—its own. Describing the ArbCom as a body designed to ‘review editor conduct, and address disruptions so that Wikipedia can remain a civil, productive place for all editors,’ Beaudette is not talking about incivility in the sense of a hostile climate that actively discourages women from contributing or being vocal about problematic behaviour online. Rather, he is talking about the need to enforce civility to ensure that new content continues to be produced, that conflict is suppressed, and most of all, that such conflict does not tarnish the Foundation’s image as benevolent institution that is ‘trying.’ The WMF may claim publicly that it wants to ‘edit diversity in,’ and yet it seems unwilling to edit its own values.

From Diversity to Democracy: Reframing our Approach

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Actually achieving diversity is about more than producing inspirational rhetoric and branding people as diversity champions. It requires actual work and longstanding political commitment. In this essay, we have argued that the WMF’s emphasis on diversity is more about furthering its organizational goals than about supporting the increased participation of actors from marginalized groups. Sara Ahmed’s work on diversity initiatives in post-secondary institutions has been instructive here, as she disrupts the narrative that they are a universally good and effective way of redistributing power. Instead, she points out how institutions use diversity language to co-opt the rhetoric of social movements and support their values of innovation, creativity, and growth. Institutional commitments become embedded within performance and branding cultures, where the institution puts on a sincere public face in hopes that it will be absolved of its responsibility. To achieve this, institutions mobilize ‘diversity champions’— model minorities whose individual accomplishments are translated to that of the institutions’.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 These ‘happy narratives’ of diversity work to silence and erase experiences of marginalization, thereby doing little to actually address the problem. We observed similar themes in the WMF’s rhetoric surrounding diversity and women. Examining their public communication, we cut through the smoke and mirrors to show how they use diversity language to keep up appearances. The emphasis on diversity initiatives and numbers are designed to distract and convince publics that institutions are ‘doing something’ about the problem when really they are doing very little.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 1 It is also worth asking why there is not more feminist resistance to the neoliberal rhetoric that underpins efforts to ‘edit diversity in’ to Wikipedia. It is not the act of collective organizing or editing people in who have been written out of history that is our concern—we acknowledge its value and importance. But examining the WMF’s discourse, our concern is about the implications of privileging individual women who have ‘succeeded’ according to standards dictated and enforced by men. Extraordinary women are important, but so too are the ordinary ones who raise us, care for us, teach us, empower us, and organize with us. Many of these women would hardly satisfy encyclopaedic demands for ‘notability’ and yet they are vital actors in our collective histories. How do we go about changing the terms and conditions of achievement so that we might use the encyclopaedia ‘anyone can edit’ to recognize the labors and political commitments of a more ‘diverse’ set?

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 These are difficult questions, and we acknowledge that these problems precede and go beyond the purview of the WMF and Wikipedia. Values of individual achievement are deeply embedded in Western culture and in the gendered construction of technology itself. Technology, coded in terms of masculinity, domination, and power, has always represented a site of ambivalence for women and for feminism (Wajcman, 2004). From the gendered construction of women’s techno-scientific work to the emancipatory rhetoric surrounding new information and communication technologies (Rakow, 1992; Consalvo, 2002), there is a need to reinvigorate critical feminist perspectives regarding technology.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 1 The question of freedom online will also need to be re-visited. Although some users interpret feminist organizing online as a way to quell free speech, it is worth asking what kind of freedom and whose is being ‘threatened.’ Who benefits and who is disadvantaged? How free are feminists to speak when we routinely witness instances of angry users harassing, stalking, and threatening feminists online and off —and observing how little online platforms are doing about the problem? Faced with the false solution to monitor/self-censor, lock down one’s accounts with privacy settings, ban comments, or just log off the Internet completely, it seems that the unconstrained communicative freedom of some comes at the expense of many.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 1 We do not accept this as desirable or inevitable. One alternative is to transform our efforts from ones that pay lip service to diversity to center it on democracy. This might help us move beyond the tokenistic ‘inclusion’ of diverse identities and bodies to focus on participation. Although we acknowledge that achieving actually existing democracy is a longstanding political project that involves negotiation, dialogue, and even conflict, we see in it the potential of dismantling a market-friendly diversity model that asks underrepresented groups to be institutional handmaidens— filling in its gaps, ironing out its accessibility issues, and staging its window-dressings.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 2 We do not mean to say that we ought to abandon diversity but we are asking what it might mean, for instance, to encode our technical participation and diversity efforts with values of fairness, honesty, and a genuine commitment to democracy (Harding 1992)—and ask technology companies to do the same. What might it mean to reframe so-called ‘free speech’ to one that freely respects and acknowledges the humanity and lived experience of others? The reason that the participation of various groups on Wikipedia is important is not simply to improve the quality of already existing products and services, but because we need to reimagine ways to learn together, work together, and interact with each other as people who share spaces online.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 3 We also see the institutional emphasis on diversity-as-solution as a political issue that goes beyond the WMF itself. While state, market and educational institutions push minority participation in STEM fields as a solution to already-existing inequities by enhancing the quality and quantity of work in the information age, we think it is important to push critical feminist perspectives on technology that attend to relations of power and hold modern institutions accountable. We do not think that diversity in STEM can occur through shortsighted ‘just add women and stir’ approaches (Harding, 1986), and we need to keep examining new opportunities and possibilities to intervene in technology. It is hard not to see the institutional push to STEM as a way to produce a generation of technocrats, and it is hard not to adopt the cynical perspective that the reason why technology companies want to hire so many women and other underrepresented groups is because they perceive them as a source of cheap and flexible labour. Instead of holding endless workshops and seminars to ‘edit diversity in,’ what might it look like if we instead integrated feminist perspectives into the disciplines of scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematical fields from the very beginning? How might it change the very ways we learn, work, and relate to each other in these environments? ‘The time for this is now,’ notes Ahmed. ‘We need this critique now if we are to learn how not to reproduce what we inherit’ (2012, p. 182). If we are truly committed to using technology to transform existing power relations, then we must consider how we can move the project of diversity from a promotional press release to an equitable political goal.


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84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 Creative Commons License
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