As part of International Women’s Day, on Friday I attended the Women in Geospatial Breakfast coordinated by Denise McKenzie from the OGC, in partnership with Geospatial CommissionAGI & Geovation 

It was a celebration of what is great about the Geospatial Industry and a rallying call for what positive measures should be taken to improve diversity across the sector. What really struck home were the personal stories of the speakers, and how critical positive role models and mentors had been in shaping their careers. Our young girls need their own heroes from cartoons, cinema and books so they are able to attach their identities to those characters and to imagine their own heroic future.

Caroline Bellamy from the Ordnance Survey told of her entry into the male-dominated data industry and it was her role models and life-coaches who gave her the courage to hold onto her convictions. Catherine McGrath, Deputy Director and the Geospatial Commission told of her positive experience working in the civil service, how much she had learned through observing others and how vital it is to build support and allies at a peer level. She also encouraged everyone to share the challenges they face more openly and to contribute to a culture where you feel able to share difficulties. Elizabeth Stutchbury (Lizzy to her friends) from Informed Solution said how she had been attracted to geospatial because of its analytical nature and it appealed to her problem-solving abilities. Lizzy spoke of the fast-paced world we live in and the need to attract the right mix of talent and to be open to retraining or up-skilling people if needed. She went on to emphasise that over 50% of women have reported sexual harassment in the workplace and support from leaders of all genders is essential when reporting and having incidents recognised and addressed.

A panel session followed with a representative mix of industry leaders and those in their early stage of careers. As young women, many had faced the daunting challenge of an entirely male interview panel, with all of them looking “old enough to be your dad”. All the panellists described the challenges they faced as female pioneers in the sector breaking stereotypes and being equally recognised and respected. What stood out was their courage in overcoming prejudice and discrimination in the workplace and how they had found the internal resource and drawn on the support of others to rise above and move forward with their careers.

For me it was an inspirational morning, it highlighted a triumph of the human spirit over adversity. We must all reflect on what is holding us back be it perceived or real and draw on the strengths of others to find a way to break free. Diversity is not just a gender issue, and our future depends on removing all forms of discrimination. Overall the direction of travel may be right, but there is still a long way to go.

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