International Women’s Day is held every year on 8 March. As part of this day we want to highlight an event which was organised by Commonwealth Rutherford Fellow Namrata Ganneri with the University of York to help raise the profile of women scientists. Keep reading to find out more.

Closing the gender gap on Wikipedia

On 4 February 2020, Commonwealth Rutherford Fellow Namrata Ganneri organised a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon event called ‘Championing Women’s Voices on Wikipedia’ at the University of York. Namrata won independent funding support from Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network), a charter which recognises and celebrates good practice in higher education and research institutions towards the advancement of gender equality, to run this half-day event. The broader initiative to close the gender gap on Wikipedia is supported by Wikimedia Foundation, which provides the infrastructure for Wikipedia. One of the main purposes of these edit-a-thons events is to raise the profile of women and other under-represented groups on the widely used, open, online encyclopaedia.

Namrata’s own academic interests in the field of women’s history and efforts to recover women’s voices impelled her to plan an event to celebrate and boost the visibility of women scientists. It is well known that women’s biographies trail behind men’s biographies by a large margin on Wikipedia. The gap is exaggerated for women scientists in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers with the ‘content-gap’ eventually culminating in fewer, visible female role models to the wider public.

 Raising the profile of women scientists 

A University-wide call to entries on Yorkshire’s women scientists and innovators brought together a broad range of new and established Wikipedia editors, as well as the names of pioneering female (and non-binary) scientists whose entries could be added or improved on Wikipedia. The event was opened by Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at University of York, who drew attention to the 29-year old computer scientist Katie Bouman, who led the development of an algorithm for imaging black holes, released by an international team of scientists at the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) in April 2019. The Pro-Vice Chancellor concluded that Bouman’s example smashed many stereotypes about women scientists.

Nigel Pepper, a Wikipedia trainer whose presence was facilitated by the Wikimedia (Scotland) Chapter, provided hands-on training at the event. 15 participants (many of them first–time editors) familiarised themselves with the basics of Wikipedia editing. Several small edits to Wikipedia pages were made during the course of the sessions. Some of the pages improved included those of contemporary scientists Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott and Professor Sarah Thompson.

Showcasing pioneers

An important highlight of the event was an exhibition on the region’s pioneering women scientists, such as the landscape gardener Fanny Rollo Wilkinson (1855-1951) and the botanist Catherine Muriel ‘Kit’ Rob (1906-1975). This exhibition was put together by the archivists at the Borthwick Institute for Archives and included rare archival material about women scientists from an earlier era, which neatly complemented the overall purpose and aim of the event.