Digital Geography

30. July 2015

GISgirls – where are the women? 4 theses

Typically GIS and geodata nerds are male. Anyhow, 99.9 % of our contacts, freelancer sign ups, comment writers here on the blog are boys. But where are the GIS girls and women?

There must be thousands of well educated, very interested hackathon-proven GIS ladies out there.
In order to getting in touch with that obviously shy species, I formulated 4 theses about GISgirls. Hopefully many active GIS and geodata girls (and women) will read that and comment in the bottom section. I would be very happy to get your feedback!

1. GISgirls are so busy because of their skills

I daresay that GISgirls are widely demanded for integrated projects in every field of digital geography, because they are more empathic and could react fast on changing requirements and teams. That’s why they haven’t got time to post things on the internet and do stuff unrelated to their jobs.

GISgirls are busy

One GIS woman could do both šŸ™‚ Anita Graser. Check out her outstanding blog.

Update: bwilkes posted an interesting story map from Morgan State University with the title: Women in GIS: Helping Map a Better World. Have a look on the fullscreen map, or add your name to the map if you’re a woman in GIS. The map contains 5 topics: 1. Women in education, 2. Women in business, 3. Women at non-profits, 4. Women in government, 5. Students and women who previously worked in GIS.

2. GISgirls aren’t intrested in GISboys

Sometimes GISboys could be quite irritating I must confess. Long hair, ugly jokes and nerd-like projects. Actual they aren’t so nasty as you think :). Try to get in touch with them, they won’t bite.

nerds in the wild

Another reason could be, that the strong represention of boys in the comments and authorship of this and some related blogs frighten girls from participating as emancipated member of the group of authors and contributors. Never fear! – GISgirls are happily invited to join our blog.

3. GISgirls love to do rather the thematic stuff than the basics

It could be, that girls and women are rather drivers than mechanics. They aren’t interested in the technical backgrounds of some GDAL-operations or python-scripts, but in achieving project goals and exploring new conclusions for recent questions based on the usage of GIS and geodata techniques. The combination of spatial comprehension with grasp of technical methods and sensitiveness for the issue is a wanted skillset for interdisciplinary projects.

4. GISgirls use other communities

My last idea is, that girls might rely on other sources of information. Often they use verbal interaction to solve problems. Boys usually read blogs and google results for hours in order to avoid social contact to anyone.

What can we, as blog and as boys, do to raise your attention and participation?

Join our free freelancer listing, if you’re interested: GIS and geodata freelancer list and be an author of this blog. Please write us:

P.S. In the line with the research for this article, I found the interesting Association for Women Geoscientist. Maybe It could be interesting for you out there.

  • Sasa Sullivan

    I am a GISgirl šŸ™‚

  • Alix H

    Let’s start by not relying on stereotypes. I’m a young woman in GIS. If you start with the assumption that I am all of these traditionally “feminine” traits (empathetic, sensitive, non-technical, afraid of complexity, focused on the big-picture rather than the science), you’re doing women in the field a huge disservice. Yes, we need a diverse array of perspectives, but attitudes similar to what you write in this piece are what keep women out of STEM. I hope that in my career I am valued not because I offer a “feminine” perspective, but because I’m good at what I do. Including the technical stuff.

    • Hi Alix, thanks for your comment and the thematic input. With these 4 theses I only want to find out, why here are so many active boys ans just few girls. Of course this post shouldn’t be interpreted as a disservice.

    • Agree with Alix H. I have a Bachelor of Science in Applied Geoinformatics (Computer Science and GIS), and will be starting my Honours in Computer Science and Information Systems soon.

      I can make pretty maps if I want, but I choose to focus on the programming and database side of GIS, and to develop enterprise GIS solutions based on client needs.

      I’ve also found (and now I’m speaking in very broad, general terms) that my male colleagues are more likely to be vocal about their skills (in meetings, online, wherever) than the females are. I prefer to post on my blog, or ask and answer questions on GIS.SE.

  • Adele

    Here I am! šŸ˜‰
    I’ve studied geography and next week my apprenticeship as a geomatician will start. I love geography, maps and working with different software, but I guess, point 3 is really true for me. I’m a very creative woman. But I’m looking forward to learn the basics of geo-specific programming, etc. Maybe some boys are a little bit to nerdy about programming, but really not all of them! šŸ˜‰ I’m in preparations for a blog about geo-stuff and me and will let you know when launching.

    • We’re really interested in your new blog. Please share!

  • I should be a girl to reply, I know, but I just wanna say thank you jakob for the post! I enjoyed reading.. and my opinion is that NĀ°1 applies for some GISgirls that I know. šŸ˜‰

  • GISgirl here! With such a small GIS industry in New Zealand, I definitely find myself leaning towards more Women in Tech communities rather than specific GIS communities. I’m currently completing my Postgraduate Diploma but working on launching my personal website and blog when I get a chance.

    • Great! Kind regards to New Zealand

  • Hi there, GIS girl here! šŸ™‚
    First of all: I wished GIS and CS boys in general would stop using the word “empathetic” all the time when refering to women in technical fields! Everytime I hear it it makes me want to vomit! šŸ˜›
    Secondy, the reason I choose my GIS friends carefully is the obnoxious behaviour I sadly encounter from men most of the time – Especially once they reach a critical mass in a classroom, they typically try to test me to find knowledge gaps to feel vindicated about their “superiority”. When they don’t find any, either after a long testing period or when I’ve played my trump card and announce that I’ve interned at Google before, they finally stop. Interestingly, men don’t seem to do this to other men. šŸ˜›
    Your third and your fourth points I must say are, in my case at least, just plain bollocks, sorry. I’m on GIS Stack Exchange all the time all day. I also retweet GIS/Geo things I find interesting on Twitter.

    • bwilkes

      From a GIS Mom–I know what you mean about the competitive aspect, but I think they DO do this to other men. But then they often just brush it off. Don’t take it personally. šŸ™‚ It’s just an insecurity thing!

  • bwilkes

    GIS girl/Mom here–Number 3 sounds a bit cliche, but it is striking a chord with me! (sorry another cliche)–at least in our “IT”-focused household, my husband, a web programmer/manager is “Mr. Fixit” and is always fascinated with how things work. If things (software OR real-world hardware stuff) break, he sees it as a challenge or interesting puzzle. Whereas I just see it as a hassle. And I often don’t really care HOW it works, I just want it to work so I can do things with it. I am happiest when software does what it is supposed to and I can just use it to create. I’m not scared of boys, though. They can be lots of fun! And they often give me a “can-do” perspective, while cutting to the chase. That said, I must say I’m a little happier working in an office where people actually notice when you get a new outfit or a haircut. šŸ™‚

  • Anushka Bose

    Hey there!! Not a complete GIS girl here!! Did my graduate studies in nature conservation and chose to work out geospatial solutions for environment management and species conservation. The line was unusual and out of the league, plus with a very small developed community towards GIS (for nature conversation in India) back then, it was more-less an individual effort. I faced a lot of criticism too, because illiterate-old school idiots in the world of nature conservation back then believed “environment management” is something that can only be done on-site AND not in an air conditioned lab-clicking the mouse over a thousand times. I still went my way and obtained a gold medal on completion of the thesis. But!! But!!! I had to do it all on my own: from basics, to processes, to algorithms to scripts. Nobody spoon fed. In due course, I found myself leaning more and more towards this unusual specialization and before I knew I started my doctoral thesis on the same line with a fully funded scholarship in Germany.

    My GIS world, does make my life hell hectic when some stupid “tiny” error jams the script (and my mood) every now and then, but life has never been more satisfying. The respect of being a pioneer in the field of specialization feels epic. The association is mere 7 years old…I hope it lasts a lifetime šŸ™‚

  • Della Robertson

    I am a middle school teacher who taught to students after school on Thursday. I had 6 – 8 grade boys and girls. My 6th grade girls took to it like a duck to water.

    I am a female with 42 years in the classroom. I completed my Environmental GIS certificate in 2012 and am a T3Ger…2015. I look forward to the upcoming school year.

    • bwilkes


      • Della Robertson

        Thank you. Would be nice to map GIS women for putting something together at the school for GIS day.

  • Ilaria

    I am a GIS girl. Not empathic at all. šŸ™‚ (Please, enough with stereotypes about women)

    I have a great experience in thematic stuff, but that’s because during my Master in GIS and Remote Sensing there were no courses about GIS programming and similar. But I was really interested in technical backgound, so I decided to learn these stuffs on my own. I read books about how computers work, about algorithms, I had an online course on Python (I am very satisfied of that course, I recommend it to everyone, it is the “MITx: 6.00.1x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python”), and now I am trying to understand how pyQT works.
    I am quite satisfied of my results, since in some months I was able to write some Python scripts to speed up processing on satellite images with QGIS. I am aware that have still a lot of things to learn, but I am working hard to become a very original nerdy girl. šŸ™‚

    PS: Last month I was the teacher for a professional course about the basis of GIS and Remote Sensing, and I was considering to edit my lessons in order to write an article about satellite image characteristics and management with open source software, but I am not sure that could be good for your target public.

    • I think our readership would be very interested in your material about satellite image characteristics. Please contact us for author login:

      • Ilaria

        That’s great Jacob! :))
        In the next days I will try to find some hours (between my CS books and my German course) in order to think about how to develop the article(s) and to translate my text to english.

  • Joseane Carina Borges de Carva

    I am a GISgirl šŸ™‚

    In Brazil!

  • Heather Hillers

    Sweety Dahling, Dahling Sweety, Sweety Dahling.

    1. Yes. I am busy. I am up to my neck busy. I work in a sector where the pay is low and you get to have responsibility for everything in the entire universe. And I love my job. I am passionate about my job. I have to trick myself into shutting down my computer every night. When I go home, I have no idea what to do with myself, and I really wish I could go back and finish that last thing. But I have a kid. And people expect me to spend time with him. And I really do love him, so I do. And every moment that I spend time with him is a moment I am neglecting my career, and every moment I spend at work is a moment I am neglecting my kid. And somehow my husband does not have this problem even though between you and me, his job is not nearly as cool as mine. But there you go. So no. I never made the second post to that blog I started last year, and I never piloted an open source project, and Nathan, I know I haven’t contributed to Roam in ages and I am sooooo sorry!! But I can’t actually spend time on work when I am not at work because if I did I would be more of a horrible mother than I already am. So I don’t. I want to, but I don’t.

    2. No! Of course I like GIS boys! Don’t be ridiculous! Why for the love of Pete would I enter an industry that was completely dominated by geek boys if I didn’t like them and I wasn’t mostly a geek boy myself, plus a few critical enhancements!

    And my husband just asked me if I was going to read my kid his bed time story. Can my husband read? Yes. Am I the only one capable of reading to my kid? Evidently Yes! Of course, I am really good at it,and I enjoy it, but there you go. I can’t even answer a blog post, my first “contribution” in months, without neglecting my family.

    3. …. Bite Me. I am a programmer. I write code. I couldn’t make a pretty map if my life depended on it. I’m practically color blind. I have no taste! I am not here to communicate. I am not here to liaison. I am not here to think about the big picture. I am here to write code! And take a blowtorch to bad FORTRAN! And make cool graphing programs! And write database interfaces! And just take simple joy in an hour of mindless bug squashing! I am not a warm fuzzy bunny or a key element of your interdisciplinary agenda. Sorry. I get patronized a lot. Don’t do that.

    Oh, now my kid poked me in the boob because I haven’t read to him yet. It’s getting critical.

    4. Oh, how I wish there was a secret elevator that you could ride up if you knew the password and up and up as the techno base got louder and louder until the doors opened to a dark bar full of cool chicks in leather who discuss into the wee hours how much longer FORTRAN can survive as a language and trade code and plot assassinations against FORTRAN programmers and anyone else who messes with us. That’s really what you boys are looking for when you ask questions like this, aren’t you? Well, if you find it, let me know. In the mean time, I just use stack exchange like everyone else.

    And now my husband wants to know if I am coming to bed. My five minutes of code based free time are up, boys! Bye!

    • bwilkes

      You are awesome. You will find balance. šŸ™‚ Keep on working, and mom-ing, (and wife-ing too). Just don’t spend too much time in cyberspace.

    • Heather, thank you for your contribution to this discussion.!

  • Helen Widdicombe

    Lets look at the company I work for. Our office: one man one woman, the larger office, 1 man 1 woman, the GIS Administrator who resigned was a woman and the one who died of a heart attack recently was a man. That’s 50% women! Oh and they’ve just taken my predecessor back on part time while he studies. (man).

  • Lexi Araoz

    First off, I thought this article was hilarious. I laughed and smiled and contemplated the accuracy the whole way through. As a 3rd-year student working in a GIS Center for the past 1 1/2 years, I do agree with you…Where are the other women?? Most of my classmates are male, and I work with all men (and boys – haha), as well. While I’m not against this and I get along with them well, I do often wish there was another woman in the office or the classroom. I attended a state-wide award ceremony this fall where 5 students were receiving an outstanding student award…3 of us were girls. Although I was proud of all 5 of us, I was especially proud that the females represented more than half! One of my male coworkers sent me this link and I’m thrilled I saw this.