Women in GIS

Last year, I joined Women in GIS, an advocacy group geared towards helping women and minorities navigate their careers in geospatial industries.

Actually, it is more accurate to say that I got (willingly) sucked into an administrative role with the organization. I’m managing their website and I’ve conducted a few interviews. While we don’t have a lot of content on the site – yet – I have high hopes. Right now, a group of women are working hard to develop an organization that will be useful to their members and inspiring for an entire field.

However, we are just a bunch of volunteers. We don’t exactly have a mission other than to network and support each other. Kind of like a big, global therapy group. Sometimes, I wonder if Women in GIS is even needed.

So…why are we form a group?

Good question

Like many tech oriented fields, women tend to get marginalized where men have traditionally dominated.

GIS – Geographic Information Systems – is a field born from the proliferation of computers. In 1962, Roger Tomlinson, often touted as the father of GIS, began the first steps of cataloging natural resources in Canada. In doing so, he created the first GIS.

It is important to note that GIS has a father, but not a mother. Why is that?

In the 1960s, though women were starting to make strides, only 38% of us went to work and we traditionally occupied positions less cerebral than men. Many of us working at that time just didn’t hold the kind of jobs that would put us in place to do the kind of work to develop an entirely new computer system. It wasn’t just that we weren’t working, but we weren’t professors, surveyors, or engineers.

By 2004, women accounted for 60% of the labor market, and we started holding more tech-oriented, managerial, and professional positions.

Woohoo! Good for us, but last year, in California, Governor Brown did something astounding. He passed a law prohibiting employers from forbidding their workers to compare wages and the law also required equal pay for similar work regardless of gender.

Let’s back up a bit and think about that.

In the year 2015, just about 100 years after the women’s suffrage movement started in United States, a governor of one of the largest states in said union had to pass a law to ensure women were compensated equally for their work.

We should be embarrassed. After so many years of fighting for equal rights in the work force, women shouldn’t still have to be protected by a law. It should be standard business practice.

But it is not just about equal pay. It’s also about who is doing the work. Women remain under-represented in the information technology industry. Just take a look at this handy graphic put together by National Center for Women and Information Technology:

btn_04032015_webWhile women make up more than 50% of the educated work force, we hold less than 30% of the jobs in computing. The numbers get worse the higher you go up the corporate ladder, with only 6% of Chief Information Officer positions being held by women.

As an Hispanic woman, I’m especially appalled by the last statistic on this graphic: Only 1% of the computing workforce are Hispanic women.

One percent!

There is no reason other than sexism and racism (either overt or unintentional) for these numbers to exist. While I like to think we are all playing on the same field, with the same resources, and similar connections, we are not.

One is a lonely number

So, why form a group advocating for women and minority voices in GIS?

Because if we don’t, our voices will not be heard. Like other tech-oriented industries, GIS relies heavily on computers and it is easy to not see us. Anyone working in GIS is somewhat annoymous. Though metadata helps to attribute data to individual GIS professionals, industry maps rarely attributed to their creator. It is not easy for a girl, trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, to see us – to see women in GIS and geospatial roles. They see women as models, actresses, waitresses, nurses, but when are they going to see a female GIS professional? Unless we go out and actively recruit young women and minorities, our industry will remain white, male-dominated.

So, let’s stand together and be seen. Join me in bringing the world to every girl’s attention.