To the Future of Women in Red and Online Diversity

I find it hard to reconcile that my time as a Women in Red Wikimedia Trainer is coming to an end. The time has flown by and it seems like only yesterday I was setting up my desk with a castle-view in Argyle House. I definitely didn’t foresee myself conducting the majority of my internship work from my student bedroom! But nonetheless, working with Wikipedia and promoting diversity have given me an immense sense of pride, taught me a great deal, and given me experiences I’d never expected.

The changes pushed by COVID-19 were dramatic and unexpected. It was almost as if my internship was completed in three acts.

Act I – Imposter Syndrome

When asked in my first week how I would measure my success at my internship, the deliverables seemed daunting and intimidating for one part-time intern to accomplish. I’m just a Graphic Design student!

I knew the Women in Red project was massively important, and a fantastic initiative for creating gender parity in open content. I knew Wikipedia was a powerful platform for change, often visited and accessible to new users once the first hurdle of article creation was crossed. But I was still slightly unsure how I could make a significant dent in the systemic gender bias which many open knowledge platforms, not just Wikipedia, face.

I had a baseline understanding of systemic bias in these early weeks, but less so how that would affect event preparation. My concept of systemic bias was that, in a Wikipedia sense, it lay largely in the lack of diversity among editors and therefore the representation in the content being created was skewed. However, given that participants in our events are more often women, it became clear that there is not a lack of gender diversity among potential editors. So what would encourage diversity among senior Wikipedia editors?

It became clear to me that creating some form of sustained engagement would be key. This would not simply be about pulling in a new audience, but how we can keep experienced editors feeling supported, continue development, cover new topics and satiate their hunger to continue contributing whilst also making our events accessible to new editors.

In researching lists of suggested women and finding sources for them I found that systemic bias was far deeper than a reflection of those creating content on Wikipedia. Wikipedia relies on reliable sources to back up information. And oftentimes in fields where women and people of colour have faced barriers to entry, or their achievements devalued, this reliable secondary sourcing can be difficult to come by. We need researchers in academic sectors or publishing to continue to document these minorities, but the power we have as editors is to surface this knowledge.

Act II – Isolation(ish)

Enter Stage left Coronavirus. In a blink, my intention to create or utilise some kind of online hosting platform where attendees could support each other beyond our in-person training was cut short. Or so I’d worried…

But this radical shake up has forced people across all sectors to re-examine delivery and communication of information. The move to remote delivery was not without its challenges. There were concerns about the potential for the experience feeling more impersonal. We’d have to bring the sense of community to people’s homes.

Following suit with the new workplace normal, we needed a hosting platform on which to conduct a webinar and re-create the Women in Red edit-a-thon event conventions remotely. Not only this, but we needed supplementary resources in place of physical hand-outs, and collated lists of further readings to help participants. No more physical merch.

As a design student, my obvious route to consistency was to create a visual identity which I could use across our core resources, and in the webinar itself. I created banners for editable resources and tried to make a consistent presentation layout which I could change the colours of to suit the theme of each session. That’s not to say that no changes were made as sessions progressed – every edit-a-thon I have reflected on what went well and made changes to how we focus our training, and the whole experience has been a huge learning curve. But keeping the same overarching structure and design has, I think, helped editors feel that Women in Red is more than ‘just another WikiProject’.

Design takes away from the at times monolithic, white and greyscale interface of Wikimedia (which I am by no means critiquing). If you by any small chance are a branding nerd like me and get excited about visual communication and want to read up on why the Wikimedia Foundation follow the visual style they do, they have a style guide here. They believe that ‘Content precedes Chrome’, a kind of modern, user focused content version of modernist ‘form follows function’ philosophy.

Child falling over in three stages

Photo from Wikipedia page for Falling – “three phases in timed shutter release”, by Jamie Campbell, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In a Wikipedia context, the idea that the content should come first makes articles easy to navigate from a browsing standpoint. It makes it all the more easy for us fall into a click hole of Wiki links and before we know it its 3am and we’re looking at the Wikipedia article for Falling (accident) or learning what a Squonk is.

However, for our new editors, it can seem daunting to be faced with such a design. Visual cues and links can seem hard to differentiate at first, and the pace of our sessions requires that we go through the basic user interface stuff reasonably quickly so users can get on with editing. The Visual Editor tool is a massive help for this, is extremely useable and works much like a word processor with which most of us have some degree of familiarity. But, especially when the site is so ubiquitous, I think there can still be a kind of editing anxiety.

This is where the kind of repetitive, kinaesthetic learning of creating your own article can give confidence. There’s a sense of cradle to grave achievement in creating a biography from scratch and hitting that final ‘Publish’ button that can instil confidence for future editing.

Act III – Time for positiviTea!

During our in-person sessions, there’s usually a tea and coffee where attendees can have a wee chat and get to know each other. The challenge as we move forward in this changing climate is how we continue to facilitate a community atmosphere. In the webinars, we usually encourage editors to introduce themselves at the beginning of the session both so I can gauge experience and Wiki literacy but also to bring a face to the names in the chat panel. I hope that this gives users more confidence in asking questions and being bold.

Promoting a Women in Red community in which our participants feel welcomed and supported is an in-road into the wider global Wikipedia community. One of the barriers to individual editors’ contribution to open source is that participation is both self-guided and self-sustaining. But this doesn’t have to be isolating, even when we’re self-isolating.


What does the future hold for the sharing of knowledge in the post-COVID world?

We seem increasingly likely to turn to the internet as our primary source of reliable information. It is therefore up to us to construct and contribute to repositories with verifiable information.

The democratisation of knowledge through open access platforms may seem like a utopian ideal, but if the recent pandemic has highlighted one thing it is that such alternatives to physical resources are becoming increasingly important to the functioning of our society as a whole. Archives that opened access to their collections during lockdown prove this is achievable.

Sharing and communication is key. Information is and always has been free, it is the medium by which it is shared that can create barriers to access. The huge community effort which we’ve witnessed on social media in creating resources to support the Black Live Matter movement has been a testament to this. If we all work to give a platform to minority voices in our own way, we can ensure that traditionally overlooked pockets of knowledge are given representation. We can make way for cross-community discussion and enable discouraged potential voices to come to the forefront.

Over the course of my internship, I saw more than 60 attendees learn to edit Wikipedia and hone their newfound editing skills. There are now 57 new biographical articles about women and 12 new articles about queer books, authors, artists, bookshops and publications. We’ve run some wonderfully diverse, intersectional events and had attendees from all over the UK thanks to our ability to host the sessions online. Whilst I may not have planned to run events in this way, this pandemic and the subsequent move to online delivery has made our materials more accessible to a broader audience. I hope that this outreach will continue to inspire editors to continue Women in Red work, or any editing in the name of diversity and open knowledge. To help keep this momentum going now that my post is coming to an end, I’ve created a resource which synthesises all the essential information about editing and creating biographical articles, and how to deliver your own Women in Red online editathon.

If you’re curious exactly what we’ve been up to, these are some of my personal stand-out articles created by our editors, although this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Mountaineer and rock climber who co-founded the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club, Jane Inglis Clark.
  • Doctor and former captain of the Afghanistan national women’s football team, Hajar Abulfazl.
  • Advocate for Women’s football who created the first professional women’s football team in Mexico, Marbella Ibarra.
  • 22 year old Filipino climate activist Marinel Sumook Ubaldo.
  • Ugandan climate and environmental rights activist Hilda Flavia Nakabuye.
  • ECA alumni and botanical artist Olga Stewart.
  • Scottish botanist and teacher Mary Pirie.
  • Edinburgh midwife who kept a casebook of 1,296 labours which she assisted, Margaret Bethune
  • Diabetes researcher who created the Metabolic Unit at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, Joyce Baird. A new ‘Baird Family Hospital’ is due to open in Aberdeen in 2021, named for her and her family’s contributions to the field of medicine.
  • And of course Lavender Menace Lesbian & Gay Community Bookshop, a pioneering LGBT+ space in Edinburgh in the 1980s, whose founders are still doing fab things today in the name of archiving queer literature.

Shifting Gears and Finding Female Pioneers

Before the pandemic struck, I’d had a blog post drafted about colour, creativity, and the information activism that contributing to open knowledge brings. However, as we’ve all been adapting in recent times, my own work on Women in Red has been met with many challenges.

We’ve moved to online delivery of Women in Red editathons and, so far, uptake has been fantastic. We ran our first event on Earth Day, 20th April with the theme of Women of Climate Change. Not only did we manage to add a range of women from around the world both historical and contemporary, but without the limits of physical participation our participants were from a markedly more diverse range of backgrounds than seen in our on-campus meets.

During the Climate Change event alone, our editors added 18 biographies to Wikipedia which have accrued over 140,000 page views in total in the first month since publishing. These are all women who, without our participants, may not otherwise have found the recognition they deserve.

Searching for Nightingales

The move to online delivery of Women in Red meetups has not been without its challenges. Simultaneously one of the most rewarding, but also challenging parts of my job role is researching women for the events. Most recently, I spent my time researching women for our Women of Healthcare and the NHS event. On the week of International Nurses Day and (not coincidently) the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale, it was my task to find the hidden heroines working to advance and protect public health.

The first barrier to my research was that early female pioneers in the healthcare field were typically limited in what roles they were allowed to perform. Certainly, from the patterns I noticed, before 1800, the majority of women in healthcare worked as midwives. Many of these midwives penetrated into the professional healthcare sector by advising doctors in hospitals on the delivery of babies. For example, one woman I discovered, Margaret Bethune, delivered over 1000 babies around Fife and the Lothians. The other major path into healthcare was as a private nurse for ‘high society’ ladies. Women working in either of these fields are often undocumented as individuals, even if their achievements in their field are notable or remarkable.

Compounding this issue was the lack of a central register of civilian nurses before 1921. Before 1919, when the General Nursing Council was established, records of nurses were kept by individual nurse training schools, and therefore many records may exist which are not available online.

Not only this, but my usual first avenue of information, libraries, are currently closed. Many of us have the advantage of access to University libraries and collections, or if not are able to register with the National Library or various more localised collections. Now more than ever I am noticing the power that access to such physical repositories brings. This is not to allay the significance of the information the internet may place at our fingertips, but rather to acknowledge the potential advantages of making more information open access.

Libraries provide us with localised, varied and specialised knowledge which colleagues, both academic and otherwise, have the power to harness. This utility combined with the digital skills our meetups teach are an important tool in democratising knowledge, a power we should not take lightly.

As a student myself, there are a great number of reference books and biographies specifically about women in healthcare held in the University libraries which I can’t get to right now. This has proven two things to me:

  • That the lack of documentation of women healers and health workers is a long-standing one which a number of authors have sought to combat in print books.
  • There is a significant amount of information about such women hidden away in libraries and not accessible to the majority of people. Systemic gender bias is a thing – these women exist and have been written about, they’re just not on Wikipedia and often the internet in general yet!

Muriel Ritson as printed in Glasgow Daily Record 16 February 1917

One of the most interesting women I’ve found is Muriel Ritson CBE – she’s a Glasgow girl who grew up in Greenock and was prominent in the health insurance sector in Glasgow, eventually becoming Scottish Controller of the Ministry of National Insurance. She also sat Committee on Admission of Women on the Diplomatic and Consular Service. Her most interesting achievement though was that she was Scottish Representative on the Beveridge Committee, representing the Department of Health. Although I’ve not found any evidence of her specific influence, the Beveridge Report was responsible for the creation of the post-war welfare state, including founding the NHS.

I could spend hours rambling about the women I’ve discovered through this project, but instead I want to link a few of my personal highlights ages over our last couple of editathons:

  • Joyce Baird (1929 – 2014), a diabetologist and academic researcher, she created the Metabolic Unit at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. The ‘Baird Family Hospital’ is opening in Aberdeen in 2021, in honour of her and her family’s contribution to the field of medicine.

  • Mary Pirie (20 January 1822 – 8 February 1885) was a Scottish botanist and teacher from Aberdeen, who published multiple works on botany and natural history, and had a column with The Banffshire Reporter.
  • Margaret Davies CBE (30 September 1914 – 6 October 1982), an English conservationist and archaeologist. She was the first chair of the Welsh Committee of the Countryside Commission, and was also president of the Cardiff Naturalists Club and on the Council of the National Museum of Wales.

If you’re interested in how you can get involved, we’re planning a Women of Sport event on Monday 1st June – 12:45pm where we will focus on women who have made significant sporting achievements. Once again we will be running the session remotely, and anyone is welcome to join no matter your level of experience.

This session aims to explain the basics of editing Wikipedia and will provide you with a suggested list of women in the above fields we feel deserve recognition. The session should run for about 90 mins and there will be time for questions after. 

If you are interested in taking part, please sign up to the event through this link.

If you want to find out more or get involved in our workshops more information can be found here:

Or to contact us please email: or

Wikimedia Women in Red Internship

As the new Wikimedia Women in Red Intern at the University of Edinburgh, my role is to encourage the editing and creation of new content around women on Wikipedia. Through a series of monthly workshops, we aim to bring inspiring female role models to prominence and combat the erasure of women’s achievements from history.

Throughout history the publication and control of information has perpetuated systemic silencing of voices from marginalised groups. The Women in Red initiative aims to increase diversity among content on Wikipedia and fight against the current content bias held by one of the most viewed sites in the world.

Looking at the figures around gender on Wikipedia, it’s not pretty. It’s estimated that fewer than 20% of regular contributors to Wikipedia are women and, as of 2020, just over 18% of the biographies on English Wikipedia are about notable women. Highlighting these voices is hugely important not only within the University community but also to society as a whole. If Wikipedia aims to be the “sum of human knowledge” then why is it that the content on the site is not representative of the diversity of the population as a whole?

I am sure all of us have at some point engaged with content on Wikipedia, likely in the early stages of researching a new research project or as a way of finding collated information about a topic. You’ve probably used it to prove a point to your mates down the pub, settle the argument your family erupted into at the dinner table when you went home or nosey at the personal lives of prominent figures.

Given that Wikipedia is so prevalent in our everyday lives, it is crucial that we scrutinise and address these imbalances. Our Women in Red editathons provide a chance for people to come together to celebrate women’s experiences and incite impactful change by researching and writing about the achievements of notable women.

I am personally looking forward to becoming further involved in the community at The University of Edinburgh and encouraging students, staff, and the wider community to come together and collaborate whilst working to readdress the balance of content. As a student myself, it is encouraging to know that the University is committed to promoting equality and gender parity through such an initiative.

Anyone with a computer and access to the internet is able to edit Wikipedia. We have the power to tip the balance of this entrenched bias through the creation and control of information. We have the power to create role models for a future generation of female innovators by highlighting the fantastic achievements of women throughout history. We have the power to share knowledge and do good.

This is only possible if you utilise your ability to edit and get involved by providing a voice to those currently missing from history. We want to celebrate their experiences and create positive change.

Meetup 35 – Wed 8 April 2020 – Women of Scotland

The thirty-fifth meetup was an online editathon focused on Women in Medicine missing from the free encyclopedia and using the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women as our main resource.

A training webinar took place on Wednesday 8 April 2020 at 1pm-2.30pm GMT which was recorded for others to watch synchronously or asynchronously as suits their schedule.

New pages include:

Meetup 36 – w/c Monday 20 April 2020 – Women of Climate Change and Sustainable Development – an Earth Day Event

The thirty-sixth meetup will be on online editathon. A training webinar will take place on Monday 20 April 2020 1pm-2.30pm which will be recorded for others to watch synchronously or asynchronously as suits their schedule. Questions/problems can be Tweeted to @emcandre or added to the Facebook page or emailed to if you use neither social media platforms. Join us to write more fabulous women onto Wikipedia, the go-to information site for people around the world. We’ll be there from 12:45pm to 5pm on Monday 20th April with a view to publishing our new pages on Wednesday April 22nd 2020 (Earth Day itself) so join us when you can this week but especially on the afternoon of Monday 20th April and stay as long as you want to/need to (some people get VERY into writing their articles when they get started). Everyone is welcome.

Meetup 37 – w/c Monday 11 May 2020 – Women of the NHS

The thirty-seventh meetup will be on online editathon.

A training webinar (link to follow) will take place on Monday 11 May 2020 which will be recorded for others to watch synchronously or asynchronously as suits their schedule. Questions/problems can be Tweeted to @emcandre or added to the Facebook page or emailed to if you use neither social media platforms.

Join us to celebrate the lives and contributions of more fabulous women onto Wikipedia, the go-to information site for people around the world. We’ll be there from 12:45pm to 5pm on Monday 11th May with a view to publishing our new pages all week by 5pm on Friday 15th May 2020 so join us when you can this week but especially on the afternoon of Monday 11th May for training and stay as long as you want to/need to afterwards. Everyone is welcome, no experience necessary.

  • Booking links will be posted here nearer the time.

If you want to find out more or get involved in our monthly workshops more information can be found here:

Or to contact us please email: or

The Women in Red events are open to everyone. Challenge the system and become a Wikipedia content activist!


Laura Rose Wood is a student and Wikimedia Women in Red Intern at the University of Edinburgh, working to encourage contribution to Wikipedia and close the content gender gap.