Happy International Women's Day: There's a long way to go


This coming Friday marks International Women’s Day, an event geared toward promoting gender equality across the globe. As women seek greater representation in politics, media, tech and other professional realms, controversies around gender equality issues continue to arise – even in San Francisco, a city nationally recognized for its progressive commitment to equality.

Last week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee landed in hot water with a comment that led some to question if he was implying that women with kids don't have the time to serve as elected officials.

A few weeks before that, San Francisco blogger and programmer Shanley Kane shook things up with a widely circulated essay blasting Silicon Valley’s “toxic lies about culture,” in which she paints the start-up world as limiting for women despite oft-expressed ideals of inclusivity:

“What your culture might actually be saying is … We have a team of primarily women supporting the eating, drinking, management and social functions of a primarily male workforce whose output is considered more valuable. We struggle to hire women in non-administrative positions and most gender diversity in our company is centralized in social and admin work.” 

And when we dropped by the RSA Security Conference last week at San Francisco’s Moscone Center out of sheer curiosity to hear what the founder of Wikipedia had to say, we learned that even people who strive for an internationally inclusive open-source encyclopedia project are experiencing lopsided gender representation, and struggling to address it.

Jimmy Wales, who started Wikipedia about 12 years ago, asked his audience to “imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of human knowledge” as the foundational goal of the global endeavor, which is headquartered in San Francisco. But despite this lofty objective of global inclusivity, he admitted that Wikipedia is struggling to attract more female participation when it comes to the people who are writing articles for it.

As things stand, the people who contribute entries to Wikipedia are 87 percent male, he said. “We’re not happy about that number,” Wales said, noting that it is reflective of the gender imbalance in the tech community in general. “This is a really important goal for us: To improve female participation,” he added.

Dishearteningly, it seems to follow a broader trend of a lack of female representation in traditional media. A report released a couple weeks ago by the Women’s Media Center included some eye-opening stats:

  • At the current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.
  • By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio. That’s also the case in coverage of abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights.
  • Forty-seven percent of gamers are women, but 88 percent of video game developers are male.
  • The percentage of women who are television news directors edged up from the previous year, reaching 30 percent for the first time.

This may not sound like a lot to celebrate, but come Friday, the ongoing struggle for gender equality might just give you the inspiration to check out some local activities commemorating International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month or just some remarkable female-driven projects in the Bay Area.

Pick up a copy of the Guardian tomorrow and check out our special Women’s History Month event listings, where we’ll highlight everything from a gathering honoring female media professionals, to meet-ups for female coders, to murals painted by women, courtesy of Guardian Culture Editor Caitlin Donohue.