Looking back on a year in the mentorship programme

By Lindsey Schmidt and Aubin Douglas

In October 2019, Women in Geospatial+ (WiG) launched its career Mentorship Programme. In such a globally tumultuous time, there had rarely been a greater need for career mentorship for women and other gender minorities in the geospatial community. After the conclusion of the first session, WiG leadership reached out to first-year participants to identify what they enjoyed about the Programme and ideas of how to improve it for the next round of participants. Here’s what they had to say:

“You just learn so much from listening to other peoples’ experiences and just from listening to the struggles they’re going through,” said Denise McKenzie, a Director at Benchmark Initiative at GeoVation in the UK, and mentor in WiG’s first Mentorship Programme cohort. “I have two awesome people to add to my network,” she said of her mentees.

WiG’s first cohort consisted of 42 participants from 17 countries, brought together in peer mentorship groups of up to three people, and mentor-mentee pairs. Due to overwhelming demand, WiG expanded the first round of their program from ten to sixteen groups and pairs altogether. The Mentorship Programme welcomes people of all backgrounds and genders to participate, including cis women, trans women, trans men, non-binary people, and those who are otherwise marginalized. All who identify as cis men are welcome to apply to be mentors.

The Programme aims to bring people together who want to grow and develop the professional skills necessary for a career in the geospatial industry. Applicants are selected based on their level of interest and commitment as demonstrated in their applications. ”I gained a lot of exposure,” said Nasilele Amatende from Zambia, who participated in a peer-mentorship group in the first round of the programme. “I got to meet people from different parts of the world, I got to learn how they’re applying GIS differently, and I got to open my scope.”

In the application, mentors and mentees can state their areas of expertise as well as the skills or knowledge they wish to develop. Accepted applicants are then grouped based on their preferences, interests, and time zones. “We covered monthly topics including Python, Google Earth Engine, Web-GIS, and remote sensing,” Amatende said. “Our group was very interactive and joining the [WiG+] Slack platform was very helpful.”

The programme benefits both mentors and mentees through expanding networks, exposing people to new experiences, and helping promote equality in the geospatial community. “I’d absolutely recommend it,” McKenzie said. “To a prospective mentor, I would say, it’s your obligation to give back and to enable people to progress in their careers. We’ve all got capacity to share our networks and to share our experiences with people who want to progress in their career journeys. To someone who might be considering the program, you’ve just got so much to gain in terms of people you might meet, the new experiences you’re opening yourself up to, the capacity to learn more about yourself and the way you work by doing something like the mentorship programme.”

When asked about what the most rewarding part of the Programme was as a mentor, Asimina (Mina) Syriou said, “Giving advice to junior specialists on how they can progress and become better is something that I would always find rewarding. It's all about sharing your past experiences, learning from them, and having the opportunity to share those with people so that they can avoid certain mistakes, give them the option to have a broader view of things.”

The Programme ties together WiG’s four core values: passion, inclusivity, support, and creativity. “It opened up a whole different world for me,” Amatende said. “I come from Zambia, and in this part of the world, GIS is not as advanced as the way it is applied in other countries. It was an opportunity to see how people are applying GIS in other countries.”

Overall, the program aims to advance WiG’s vision to promote gender equality in the geospatial community through inspiring, uniting, and empowering women+. “We discussed professional development, different forms of leadership, how to communicate well in a professional manner and many other topics. My favourite topic was our discussion about reacting to anyone who does not take women, either yourself or another colleague, seriously and question their/your ability in a professional setting,” said Lisa Fischell, a first-year peer-mentor. “The Women in Geospatial+ Mentorship Programme has been incredibly rewarding and educational and I could not recommend taking part more highly.... I would 100% recommend the program!”

I never had confidence,” said Amatende. “But the WiG mentorship programme published my profile [on LinkedIn] and people began to communicate with me. Before, I never could have done such a thing. I was too shy. Relating with these women gave me a lot of confidence. I would definitely recommend the programme.”