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Tara Seitz: A Woman in a Man’s GIS World

Editors Note: This article was written by Tara Seitz but posted under our generic GoGeomatics account.  To learn more about Tara please see this article about her and her work.

If I line up ten little blue soldiers and add one little pink soldier in the middle, the mind is automatically drawn to the odd pink soldier. The same can be said in the GIS world. Among a line up of male workers, a female worker stands out. Knowing what to do when getting noticed can help advance her career.

I was introduced to a gentlemen the other day who, upon seeing me with my newborn, asked if I would return to work after maternity. “Yes”, I replied, “I’m a Senior GIS Specialist working on pipeline applications and have much to accomplish before I retire.” He raised his eyebrows in surprise and accidentally made an audible gasp.

Really? Is being a woman in a male-dominated field so extraordinary? Well… Yes. It is. It is literally out-of-the-ordinary, as in extraordinary. I would even consider it outstanding, as in it stands out. Is being extraordinary and outstanding a bad thing? Of course not. Doesn’t every career coach tell us that if we want to make something of ourselves we need to ‘do a little extra’ and to ‘stand out’ to get ahead?

In my case I am a GIS professional in the Oil & Gas industry. While there are many ordinary GIS jobs that map pipeline routes, gas features and environmental sensitivities, I chose to move beyond these tasks and invest my efforts in the quality management of the entire process. The S in GIS stands for system and it is time we started treating it as such. My ‘extra’ is the endeavour to create quality standards for the system as a whole. I often challenge the legal use of maps, the handling of data from source to storage, the version control of analysis, and encouraging the use of geo-business intelligence. To do this I study methods such as Six Sigma and Total Quality Management. My applied degree in GIS may have started my career but these specialties separate me from the pack. Applying my education in the Oil & Gas industry most certainly distinguishes me from the herd again.

Regardless of my education and experience, however, the extra effort is futile if unnoticed. This is where the little pink soldier among the blue background has its advantages. Getting noticed because I am a professional woman in a male-dominated field makes me stand out; even if it is just slightly and only for a brief moment. I am not suggesting that you seek praise for your work but rather to take advantage of the attention and share your GIS endeavors and contributions. It’s a simple strategy with which we are all familiar called ‘networking’. And networking is just good business that hedges opportunities.

The message? If your response to ‘what do you do for a living’ leaves someone a little breathless, then they will likely remember you. Don’t shy away from this attentive audience. Use the situation to broadcast your abilities and communicate your intentions. It has worked for me so far. Then again maybe this gentleman simply gasped because I had baby vomit on my blazer.

Check out other Canadian Women in Geomatics for International Women’s Day 2013 articles and interviews.

One comment on "Tara Seitz: A Woman in a Man’s GIS World"

  1. Karl Kliparchuk says:

    Hi Tara. From your note it sounds like you are working in Alberta, probably Calgary. I can tell you that here in Vancouver, BC there are many women taking our GIS program at BCIT, and there are many women working in the GIS industry as I have worked in a few companies in Vancouver that have a significant number of women in them. I enjoy having a more mixed environment in the workplace. Hopefully where you are will continue to bring in more women to GIS positions.

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