Why is iNat male-dominated?

Another idea based on anecdotal experience: iNat is very photo-based, and on group field trips I’ve been on (mostly birding and diving), it’s been usually mostly men with big camera rigs.


There are more women at our local camera club…

i think it’s herd behaviour. If you have a party and all the women are in a group talking, and all the men in another group, when a man walks in he will tend to head to the guys group, and a women would head to the womens group. There are exceptions, but it’s instinct to group or herd towards like…


Yes, men with oversized telephoto lenses. Boys and their toys. That does seem to be common. (I say as one who developed tendonitis and rotator cuff injury from the one I haul around.)


It does matter, because if iNaturalist is cultivating an environment that discourages some people from participating, we should understand a) why and b) what can be done about it.

I echo @charlie’s response:

I’ve been working on a longer reply, but at the moment I have to leave to pick up my daughter from school so I’ll try to post later tonight or tomorrow morning.


I was curious about this issue on BugGuide once and was informed that there was no sex ratio imbalance among registered users. Perhaps, though, there’s a difference among active users.

To address @jwidness’s original question, one suggestion made by many others above is that iNaturalist is a demographic reflection of the photographic/scientific/natural history/citizen science sub-communities. How do we know? For a satisfying answer we need data that we probably don’t have. I think we might want to ask ourselves if we want to be a reflection of those groups, in terms of their demographic composition; or, are there ways in which we want to diversify?

Also a good point by @schoenitz that there are many influential women in the community, even if they are not in the top of the observer and identifier leaderboards. We’ve never found a good way, for example, to identify the “evangelists” who are recruiting a lot of people to iNaturalist.

At this point, iNaturalist is the scale of a small city, and I think a lot of city-like analogies become relevant. We’ve got virtual “neighborhoods” of people who interact more with each other based on geographic, taxonomic, or other interests, and the demographics of those “neighborhoods” vary too. Are all of those neighborhoods inclusive and supportive, in this particular case specifically for non-men? If they aren’t, then we should a) find out why and b) work to make them that way.

At this scale, iNaturalist is also influenced by many, many cultures and the systemic sexism (and other systemic -isms) within each that contribute to emergent global patterns. We can, should, and do try to make iNaturalist accessible to as many people as possible (after all, biodiversity is pretty much everywhere and everyone has personal experiences with wild biodiversity of some kind), but there’s always more to be done.

@jwidness, given the potentially expansive reach of this topic, do you want to refine or elaborate on your original question?


As a non scientific check, I just looked at the 100 most recent submissions to BugGuide. Of those where the user name suggested a gender, which was most, about 30 percent came from what appeared to be women. It was slightly distorted by one person contributing about half though. Looking at their profile, that one user appears to be a new user, not a prolific submitter.

It would be interesting to spot check at different times.


My understanding is that in the birding community, a small majority of the members in clubs, facebook groups, organizations, etc. are female, but the leaders of those groups and the hardcore birders that get to the top of the leaderboards are majority male. Whether that’s a result of biological differences or cultural pressures is open to debate, but at least it’s not as simple as complete male-majorities.


Thanks for all the responses, this has been a very interesting discussion to follow. There has been quite a variety of explanations put forth for the male bias on iNat, and while I find some of the reasons more plausible than others, I expect the answer is complicated and involves many of these and probably more. But I think (as others have already suggested) that the real reason for the discussion is to explore ways that women (and other minority groups) can feel more welcome in the community. It’s somewhat telling to see that although most of the voices in this thread are male, the “likes” on posts suggesting we investigate the issue further are more female-biased.

I looked through users who recently signed up to iNat for ones whose gender seemed clear from the name and/or photo. Of the 60 I looked at, about half were female. If the sign-up rate is approximately even (though a larger sample size would help clarify that), then something is happening once people are already on the platform. This could be, as others have said, a case of personality or interests aligning more for males than females, but there could be more to it. And even if it’s a personality/interest thing, I still feel iNat could have a positive impact on female retention by making some changes. For example, if the leaderboards are more appealing to men, maybe make them less visible on the site. I also looked at the last year of Observations of the Week and found the skew at about 70% male. Given that the top observers are about 80% male, this could be interpreted as potentially favoring women, but I wonder if it could be further improved. (This is not a criticism of @tiwane.)

So I would suggest that rather than further discussing if there is a male bias and whether it matters, I think we should move on to brainstorming ways to be more inclusive for everyone. What are concrete changes that iNat can make to attract and retain a diverse user base?


It would be interesting to know if this balance held true if you eliminate student accounts, who are likely being forced to use the site and only measured ‘willing’ users.

hmmm… i’m not sure that there’s conclusive evidence that the iNaturalist community does skew particularly male in the way that it really matters, which is compared to the population of all naturalists. as far as i can tell, even if we accept the assumption that iNaturalist users skew male, it might be possible that iNaturalist users are relatively more female than the all naturalist population, in which one path for next steps might be to figure out how to translate iNaturalist’s best practices to other places. i’m not opposed to discussing ways to promote outreach or even changes to system that might appeal to more women, but i wouldn’t want that discussion to be based on a foundation that may not actually be true.

(you may or may not have moved on from that assumption, but the title of the thread at least definitely still makes that assumption. if you want to pivot, it might be helpful to change the title of thread and update the original post to reflect the pivot.)

1 Like

Hm, I question the underlying supposition of “the” male bias in the first place. While certain subcategories (eg, people who identify x or y; people who observe a or b; people who do a lot of either task) may have their own individual skews (or not), my perspective while behaving as a generalist on the site is that I don’t sense a skew overall.

I’ve ended up interacting with a lot of people and seeing a lot of ids, photos, descriptions etc while I look at a lot of records. My gut impression from all the various “tells” embedded in these has always been roughly 1/3 maybe male, 1/3 maybe female, 1/3 or more reserve judgment. Viola, balanced overall from my own sense of the big picture.


I don’t think just looking at user profiles, avatars, or usernames is going to give you a very accurate assessment of the gender breakdown. Many women get in the habit of picking gender-neutral online identities to avoid unwanted attention, harassment, or “mansplaining”. I’ve never seen that kind of thing happening on iNaturalist yet, but it definitely has on other areas of the internet. I think that’s changing though, and it’s a lot better than it was say 15-20 years ago.

I normally don’t like to generalize or stereotype too much, but I do agree with some earlier comments regarding societal reasons. Traditionally men have been the ones to excel at things requiring an obsessive level of time, especially time away from home. Most women just couldn’t spend a lot of their time on projects like that… be it for work or hobby. Caring for children, parents, and homemaking kept them pretty busy both before and after women’s lib. That’s still changing too of course, but I think women on average still do more of that kind of work, even when they’re also employed full-time.

Regarding the statements about autism and Aspergers. I remember reading somewhere recently that girls are under diagnosed. That they mask it better than boys, and that their “obsessions” are just seen as more socially “normal”. They might have an intense interest in horses, stuffed animals, or celebrities… rather than insects or trains.

There might be a confidence gap as well, like already stated. That topic came up in many of the studies into gender pay disparity. Men tend to overestimate their abilities, while women underestimate theirs. Maybe men feel more confident in their ability to identify things for others?

I haven’t seen anything on iNat though that would be the cause of any gender disparity. To me, it’s always seemed like a very welcoming platform for everyone!


There are more women at our local camera club…

Yes, and in my local Audubon Society chapter and iNat county project, the leaders are all women, some of whom have some big glass. But that is one point in a larger picture I have no real information about. My idea from camera use on past dive/bird trips is as I noted anecdotal (as is everything else on this thread), but at least is ~50 points.


I think that maybe the functioning of the apps could have an effect. I am a female user who has always used the website. I have tried several times to use the app but then I give up and delete the app from my phone. I joined in 2014 and I am pretty sure I would not have made it to 2015 if the website didn’t exist. I have been with other females struggling to figure out the app as well, and they are no longer on iNaturalist because they weren’t interested in primarily using the website. (I don’t have any experience watching males first trying to learn on the app.) I’ve developed the sense that more of the people who don’t seem able to see comments on the app and demonstrate frustration with IDs on their observations being turned into State of Matter Life and keep trying to add their original IDs again until they delete the observation altogether are female. It seems that they can’t find the comments section or don’t know how to use it. I don’t have any statistics, but I think it may be worth looking into whether male users find it easier to learn and use the apps (possibly because they are more interested in computer technology generally) and whether that has something to do with any gender imbalance that may exist in other areas.

1 Like

I’m a woman, and as others have mentioned, I don’t use gender identifying anything online, in general. I especially wouldn’t do so here, (especially pictures or real names) because it’s easy for the place you live, work, or hike to be guessed by your observation patterns. I had a stranger become a stalker before (not on iNaturalist), so I’m acutely aware of how dangerous it can be to let random people know where you will be. I imagine many other women feel the same way.

That particular security concern with iNaturalist affects everyone, but is probably more of an obvious issue to women and people who present themselves in a more female way.


The whole sentence from https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/what+is+it is actually:

However, despite the fact that iNat can be a bit technical and seems scientific, our primary goal in operating iNaturalist is to connect people to nature , and by that we mean getting people to feel that the non-human world has personal significance, and is worth protecting.

it occurs to me that if this is the primary goal, it’s possible that number of observations or identifications is not necessarily the best measure of success. maybe connecting people to nature includes sharing observations with larger networks, in which case maybe things like this (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/share-observations-with-one-click-to-other-social-media/1214/9) should get increased priority?

suppose you increase linkages with a known woman-dominated social media platform like Pinterest, and that generates a lot of extra views and discussion outside of the iNat platform, but doesn’t significantly increase the number of observations or identifications in iNat itself. is that still success?

now forget about what i just said about Pinterest specifically and suppose that some portion of iNat users signed up primarily to follow their active friends, but they themselves don’t actively observe or identify. as long as they’re actively following activity on iNaturalist, does that still make them active users? or does it really only matter if you’re observing and/or identifying?


Interesting discussion. I completely agree with what PilcrowChevron wrote about safety concerns. You can look at most active users’ profiles and get a good idea of when and where they hike on a regular basis. For a woman who hikes by herself a lot, that can be kind of unnerving. It’s the main reason why I have a gender neutral profile and user name. My hunch is that there are probably as many women on iNat as men, but women are more likely to hide their gender (for safety concerns and other reasons mentioned in this thread).


I have to admit that those legitimate reasons for obscuring one’s personal profile never occurred to me. Thanks for sharing that.


Thanks @jwidness, this is something I think about a lot. I generally try to go for diversity with Observation of the Day, but that means diversity across many axes, such as taxa, geography, “type” of photo (cute/predation/wide/close/etc), and I try to feature users who have not been featured before. For observation of the week, I’ve also tried to feature women and people from places that are less commonly-represented on iNat, but can certainly do a better job on that front. There are a lot of factors involved, the main one being language. For example, @mutolisp was able to translate correspondence between myself and the observer for this one and that was great.

More broadly, I think biases here more likely reflect long-term societal biases, and those can take a long time to change. But, again anecdotally, I think there is a large population of younger women and girls (at least here in the US, which is what I’m familiar with) who will be working in the biology/ecology/science fields. I did environmental education here in the Bay Area for over 8 years, and in general I would say the girls I worked with were more into the stereotypical “boy” things, like touching snakes and spiders, going on hikes, performing experiments, and the like than the boys were. Participation in the middle school digital nature photography camps I co-led was almost entirely female, which was awesome to see. And more girls told me they wanted to work in science. All very encouraging for the future.