Academic journal article URISA Journal

Women in the GIS Profession

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Women in the GIS Profession

Article excerpt


This research grew from two original questions. The first is whether there is an underrepresentation of women in the professional GIS field and the second is whether women in GIS have experienced gender-based obstacles to career success. To our knowledge, the work presented here is the first substantial piece of empirical research on this topic. While a number of authors have looked at the role of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments in academia, there is a distinct lack of research for the professional field. Schuurman's "Women and Technology in Geography: A Cyborg Manifesto for GIS" (2002) and Pavlovskaya's and St. Martin's "Feminism and Geographic Information Systems: From a Missing Object to a Mapping Subject" (2007) are the only publications that directly report on women who conduct GIS research and who are GIS practitioners, but there is no empirical foundation for their arguments. What this research borrows from the latter is the notion of identifying women as suitable "objects" of research as well as "subjects" who perform GIS work. Our research was based on two hypotheses: first, that there is indeed an underrepresentation of women in GIS, and, second, that women experience genderbased obstacles to success. Both of these hypotheses will be shown to not hold true, although some caveats will be explored at the end of this article. Before that, however, we will present a short literature review, describe our pilot study, present and analyze the aforementioned survey, and interpret the results.


As mentioned before, most publications on gender bias deal with STEM fields in academia rather than in the professional world, although given the fairly clear underrepresentation of women in college-level STEM courses, it then comes as no surprise that they are subsequently underrepresented in these professions as well. The current state of discussion can be summarized by three questions that form the basis of this review:

1. Why is it important to increase the number of women working in STEM?

2. Why are women not significantly represented in STEM and what is the status of those women who do work in STEM?

3. How can both the relative absence of women in STEM, as well as problems with the status of those women who do work in these fields, be addressed?

Why should increasing the participation of women in STEM be important? While an equity argument seems like a straightforward answer, such arguments are typically not employed by the authors of contemporary diversity literature. Some are economic in nature (Glover 2002). One idea proposed is that given the shortage of skilled workers in STEM, women and minorities represent an untapped resource (Adam et al. 2006, Ahuja 2002, Beede et al. 2011, George et al. 2001, Sonnert 1999, Trauth 2002). Not only are women a potential resource, but the existing "skills crisis" could even be partially attributed to the lack of inclusion of women and other demographic groups in STEM fields (Trauth 2002, 98).

The alleged shortage of skilled STEM workers in the United States is puzzling when examined next to 2011 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau that reveal the proportion of employment in STEM versus non-STEM occupations by those holding bachelor degrees in STEM disciplines. According to these figures, only a quarter of men and women with science and engineering bachelor degrees work in STEM (Landivar 2013). Eighty-five percent of women and 70 percent of men with science and engineering bachelor degrees do not end up working in STEM (Landivar 2013). The rate at which both women and men educated in these STEM disciplines do not continue onto STEM careers is staggering, but among women this phenomenon is even more pronounced. These numbers suggest that there are perhaps other issues beyond a shortage of skilled labor. Arguments for increasing women's participation in science and technology because of a shortage of skilled workers are problematic. …

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