Mentorship is key to supporting a diverse geospatial workforce


1 min read

Representation matters. Diversity within STEM fields has increased over the years with many recruitment initiatives. Yet, the science and technology industries are still heavily male-dominated. More is needed to recruit and support women and other under-represented groups into STEM fields as they navigate systems designed for men by men. Support is critical for retention and career progression. And it is good for business on many fronts. One way to support women and under-represented groups is through peer mentorship.

Mentorship is good business.

Mentorship is a collaborative learning relationship that proceeds through purposeful stages over time and has the primary goal of helping the mentees gain the skills and knowledge they need to move on in their chosen careers. It can take many forms, from career coaching to peer mentoring or somewhere in between. Serving as a mentor can help improve your leadership and communication skills and provides an opportunity to diversify your network.

Before applying to the mentorship program, I was familiar with Women+ in Geospatial. The organization offers networking events and professional development webinars and maintains a speaker database. The WiG+ mentor program has connected 250 women+ across 56 countries and offers various modes of mentorship. I was selected to be part of the 2021-2022 cohort, where I joined a peer mentorship group based in the European area that met virtually.

Machine Learning Engineer, Kathryn Berger (second row, fourth from left), participated in the 2021 mentorship cohort.

My peer mentoring group consisted of four women with different backgrounds and at different stages of their careers but sharing a passion for all things geospatial. Our group met every three weeks for ten months. One of the fantastic things about the WiG+ mentorship program is the legacy projects produced by the program's participants. A shared interest within my peer mentorship group was the development of geospatial portfolios inspired by maps produced in the 30DayMapChallenge. So we selected it as the focus for our legacy work.

In addition to displaying your maps and your familiarity with geospatial tools, your portfolio can convey your writing and communication style to potential employers. Our group discussed the foundational importance of having a website or portfolio for geospatial professionals. However, developing a website can be intimidating: Where do you start? What do you include? Our mentorship group decided that our legacy project would be the development of a resource guide to walk individuals through this process. We called it GIS Portfolio 101. Alongside our regular peer mentoring sessions, we spent the next six months researching, finding the best content, organizing, and building this site as a resource for others looking to get started with creating a portfolio. One of the things I loved about the WiG+ mentorship program was that we made something that could be useful beyond our group and the time we came together.

GIS Portfolio 101 is a resource guide for getting started with an online GIS Portfolio.

Development Seed recognizes the importance of mentorship in career development and has established a nascent mentorship program within our team. Our organization believes that creating supportive environments for the team, especially in a remote workplace, is vital to team member happiness and allows for our best work to happen.

As we celebrate January as National Mentoring Month and International Mentoring Day on January 17th, I encourage you to think about how you can foster a mentoring relationship within your community or workplace. Consider contributing to wider mentoring networks like AnitaB (for women and non-binary technologists) and the URISA Mentoring Network (for professionals in the geospatial industry). There are abundant resources, whether you’re looking to become a mentor yourself or seeking a mentor to champion you for success. It's a great way to start the new year!

If you're interested in participating in the next WiG+ cohort, keep an eye out for applications opening in the summer of 2023. And even if you aren't in the mentorship program, join Women+ in Geospatial. The community is supportive, positive, and optimistic about the future of geospatial.

The Women+ in Geospatial Mentorship Program page contains more information on this topic.

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