Transitioning from Awareness to Action – WGIC’s DEI Workshop at GWF 2022 

In the scope of the Geospatial World Forum (GWF) 2022, the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) conducted a workshop on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Representatives of the companies in the geospatial industry engaged in a discussion about the pace of progress and challenges in designing and implementing DEI initiatives.

WGIC Secretariat May 30, 2022
WGIC Conducted a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at GWF 2022 where Geospatial company representatives talked about the pace of progress and challenges in designing and implementing DEI initiatives.

In recent years, geospatial companies have been giving more prominence to implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness (DEI) initiatives to create an accepting and inclusive work environment and equal opportunities for employees of all backgrounds. Read WGIC’s blog covering its Members’ DEI efforts for a broader understanding of the DEI initiatives in the geospatial industry.   

Historically, DEI was viewed as a method for ensuring government compliance or as a “program” to be managed by the business. However, now, the geospatial industry recognizes DEI programs’ significance and the positive impact they can have on the business. A diverse workforce, for example, increases creativity and productivity, encourages innovation, and reduces employee turnover. Inclusion supports building a safe work environment on physical, mental, and emotional levels. Equity, a fair reward system, and equal pay for equal work ensure business progress continuity.  

WGIC has been conducting workshops on the topic to sensitize the stakeholders and create awareness of the significance of DEI and transitioning from awareness to action. The emphasis has been on the following three aspects; 

  • the benefits of diversity,  
  • biases that impede equity,  
  • and steps to become more inclusive.  

The primary focus of the discussion was showcasing practical approaches for advancing DEI. As a result, a set of steps were identified to accelerate the success. WGIC believes that businesses must adopt novel approaches to comprehending and discussing DEI topics. It will help to develop new abilities to foster DEI in the workplace.  

Panel Discussion: The Panelists, Topics, and Ideas  

Visual presenting three discussion topics of WGIC panel discussion at GWF 2022
Figure 1: The topics of the panel discussion

The panel witnessed a diverse representation of panelists. Among the panelists were  

  • Albert Momo, Vice President & Executive Director, Emerging Markets and Funded Projects, Trimble, and Chair, DEI Committee, WGIC,  
  • Barbara Ryan, Executive Director, World Geospatial Industry Council,  
  • John Kedar, Strategic Advisor, Geospatial Infrastructure, Geospatial World,  
  • Flavia de Souza Mendes, Lead Organizer, Ladies of Landsat (LoL),  
  • Olivia Powell, Director, Women in Geospatial+,  
  • Nadine Alameh, CEO of Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC),  
  • Pooja Mahapatra, Solution Owner – Geospatial, Fugro,   
  • Dr. Zaffar Sadiq Mohamed-Ghouse, Director, Advisory & Innovation, AAM. 

The panel discussion was full of new ideas, critical thoughts, and debates regarding DEI and its implementation process in the geospatial industry. “You cannot mend something you cannot name,” emphasized Albert Momo. The DEI awareness campaign conducted in 2020 covered this question. Now, the geospatial industry wants to push even further and take steps towards the implementation of DEI initiatives. In terms of WGIC’s efforts, Momo added that before the end of the year, the DEI Committee at WGIC will produce a report entitled “Diversity in Geospatial Leadership: Myths, Perception, Reality?” revealing the demographics of leadership in the geospatial industry. For Momo, the definition of diversity is “All the distinctions that we offer to the workplace.” 

After Momo’s remarks, Dr. Zaffar brought the example of the Space, Spatial & Surveying Diversity Leadership Network (SSSDLN), an organization based in Australia and New Zealand that offered an action plan. Launched in response to the Spatial Industry Transformation and Growth Agenda 2026, “Thinking differently about the difference” is an action plan for enhancing innovation and collaboration in the spatial sector. 

In his own words, Dr. Zaffar defined diversity as “all the variations that we bring to the workplace, and everyone thinks differently.” In addition, Dr. Zaffar brought up a poll and highlighted three key findings from it. 

  • More than a third of women have been excluded from a social gathering at least once, frequently, or always.  
  • Women are disproportionately underrepresented in the business sector, even though they make up half of the workforce.  
  • Women in the spatial sciences make less money than their male counterparts.  

There are many obstacles in the implementation of DEI programs but Dr. Zaffar highlighted the following ones. 

  • The fact that nobody in the business world seems to know much about the lack of diversity is an issue.  
  • Cultural prejudice and long-held belief that the field is best suited to men. For example, when it comes to hiring new employees, evaluating current employees, or gauging future talent, unconscious sexism is all too common. Intentional biases in hiring create pipelines that focus on satisfying long-term needs.  
  • Unconscious biases may cause us to ignore talented groups, for example, when we insist that highly skilled immigrants have just Australian experiences, despite their international backgrounds.  

Despite recent advances toward gender equality, Pooja Mahapatra contends that gender segregation in labor force composition and labor market persists. Job ads may convey gender biases, attracting potential job seekers to apply for a certain position and thereby reinforcing gendered workforce composition. To minimize gender prejudice, she advocated having each job posting examined by both genders, regardless of who created the advertisement. On this note, Olivia Powell emphasized that diversity encompasses all the differences that distinguish us as individuals, not just women. The challenge, she claims, is that changing people’s thinking is a cultural thing. The actions should be targeted. There is a need to address one DEI aspect at a time. She proposed starting with gender diversity as it touches half of the world’s population.  

“Can we stop focusing on diversity and inclusion and start focusing on belonging?” Nadine Alameh added to the discussion. She spoke about the unequaled power of belonging and the bad consequences of not belonging in a society and work environment. While there are currently projects concentrating on “belonging,” she hopes for a snowball effect that develops momentum and builds a greater impact, increasing diversity and inclusivity. Nadine also discussed the significance of the network effect. People usually communicate with those who are like them, regardless of gender, age, or function. While birds of a feather may flock together, silos do not promote effective information exchange or collaboration and might generate fault lines between organizations. Personal ties contribute to the upkeep of supporting relational networks.  

Flavia de Souza Mendes highlighted the importance of the role of those in positions of power as active allies of DEI implementation. She suggested that rather than adapting to the system and agreeing to the status quo, we should alter it. She argued that before equity and inclusion can be implemented, everyone in power must do something. People who directly suffered or faced discrimination shouldn’t be the only ones demanding action; others should voice their concerns and try to take initiatives to promote DEI. To this, John Kedar added that while people can talk about leadership and persons in various positions who can influence change, it is ultimately a personal journey that must be undertaken by every individual. 

Barbara Ryan presented the concluding remarks by outlining some concrete steps for addressing DEI in the workplace (Figure 2). Top leaders, she argued, should articulate their individual and collective perspectives, identity values, and culture, consider how experiences of power and privilege may affect their approach and effectiveness — and that of others, and evaluate how DEI dynamics may affect marketplace and business strategy to set a direction, create alignment, and generate a commitment to DEI initiatives in the workplace or other organizations. 

Visual presenting three steps that will help to go from DEI awareness to action.
Figure 2: Step-by-step actions to go from DEI awareness to action 

Leaders of an organization send a message of commitment that serves as the cornerstone of their company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives when asked such questions as 

  • Why are they fighting inequality? 
  • What obstacles have they encountered? 
  • What do they hope to achieve in terms of greater equity? 
  • What are concrete measures to follow to achieve these goals? 

Diversity is a process that involves recognizing and capitalizing on individual variations among staff and clients. It helps leaders and groups examine how different viewpoints and methods affect work and how to get the most out of everyone involved. Leaders of all stripes and in all spheres need to get a handle on the new norms and figure out how to apply the principles of inclusive leadership in their contexts. Furthermore, individuals need access to training, materials, and encouragement to develop skills in recognizing and reducing bias, appreciating diversity, making compassionate relationships, cultivating allies, managing conflict, and bringing out the best in others.