Ada Initiative keynote at Wikimania 2012: "Fostering diversity"

Mary Gardiner keynote

Mary Gardiner giving the keynote address at Wikimania 2012 © Alejandro Linares Garcia, Creative Commons BY-SA

On July 12, Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner gave the opening keynote to Wikimania 2012, the world’s largest conference for Wikipedia and related projects. Over 1400 people were in attendance, including several hundred people attending the co-located Tech@State conference, a quarterly conference run by the U.S. State Department’s eDiplomacy program. The keynote was part of articles in Slate, The Verge, and Wikinews.

The title of the keynote was “Fostering diversity – not a boring chore, a critical opportunity.” In it, Mary described how various social change movements around the globe increased diversity in their ranks, and what they gained from it. While the Wikipedia community is not first and foremost a social change movement, “free access to the sum of all human knowledge” is an almost unimaginably strong force for social change, and many Wikipedians see their work in that light. Diversity is an important part of that goal; as Mary puts it, “To incorporate the sum of human knowledge you have to incorporate the sum of humans.”

Mary outlined several ways to improve diversity. People often fear that creating communities for underrepresented groups within a project leads to isolation and drop-outs, when the opposite is true. “The more you encourage people retain parts of their identity that are important to them, in my case as a woman, the more you enhance their other identity as a Wikipedian.”

Extending invitations specifically to underrepresented groups, such as the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, is effective for many reasons. “It is the Wikipedia community that has the power that to reach out to the powerless rather than the other way around.”

Finally, Mary encouraged the audience to listen to and believe people from underrepresented groups when they speak. “If someone from an underrepresented group says you are hurting them, then stop. It’s very easy to be defensive.” She encouraged Wikipedia editors who want to make a difference to find a part of Wikipedia written mainly by a different group of people from themselves, and then read (but not edit) the discussions with an open mind.

The Wikimania audience enjoyed Mary’s talk. A few lines especially resonated with them and were repeated and tweeted throughout the conference: “The Wikipedia community has a responsibility […] to always be on a journey toward diversity,” “Diversity does not mean bringing everyone under same tent and having to agree, it means increasing the size of the umbrella,” and “Identity is not a zero sum game,” about identifying both as a woman and a Wikipedian.

Donna Benjamin created a Storify summary of the tweets about Mary’s keynote. Zoomph created a visual graph of the topics of tweets related to Wikimania 2012 showing Gardiner (Mary’s last name) as the second most popular topic.


Mary’s slides are available and the Wikinews story includes extensive notes from the keynote as well as audio-only recordings.


As of September 2012: the video of Mary’s talk is now available! We’d love your help making it more accessible by subtitling it in Amara!

Closing thought

A closing thought from Mary Gardiner, about Jimmy Wales’ comment about his “own Ada initiative”: “Jimmy’s daughter is another wee Ada! May I suggest Initiative would be a great middle name for forthcoming Adas? Just a thought.