The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 18: Tackling unconscious bias in the geospatial sector

Featuring: Julia Wagemann

Welcome back to the Practical Democacy Podcast. In this episode, we talk to Julia Wagemann, founder of Women+ in Geospatial, to talk about unconscious bias in the geospatial sector.

Women+ in Geospatial was established as a way for women and non-binary or trans people to form a community and provide support, advice and inspiration to each other in a field that's typically male-dominated. The organisation hopes to tackle the unconscious biases and glass ceilings that many women face over the course of their careers.

Episode 18 transcript

Julia Wagemann: You’re in a team meeting and you make a proposal and no one says something. And then just two people further then the same proposal comes up and everyone is applauding for example. And you just sometimes feel like, okay, what language do I speak?

Sabine Groven: [Music] Hello and welcome to the Practical Democracy podcast by Delib. My name is Sabine Groven and I’ll be speaking with some great movers and shakers working to make practical change today. On this episode we’ll be talking about changing the status quo in the geospatial industry empowering women working in tech and the importance of a diverse workforce. And to talk about this I have got the brilliant founder and director of Women in Geospatial.

Julia Wagemann: My name is Julia Wagemann and I work at the moment as an independent consultant in the geospatial domain trying to make large volumes of earth observation data better accessible for users.

SG: Three years ago Julia had an idea to create a professional network of women working in the geospatial industry.

JW: So it was in 2019, one day before International Women’s Day. And to be honest I thought about it but I don’t remember exactly what it was, but there was a trigger. I don’t know, there maybe a trigger on Twitter or somewhere which basically just channelled frustration I had about biases and systematic biases in the field which just led me like- I really would say it was an impulsive tweet. So it wasn’t scheduled or it wasn’t planned for months, to say okay now we do it. And so it was really impulsive and saying, okay what about yes, who would be up for forming a group like this? So women in earth observation, remote sensing and geospatial, is there interest? And then yes it picked up very well.

So within two days we had over 300 people showing interest in signing up for this Twitter list. And then we realised, okay, this Twitter list is actually not a good way forward because there is no central way to actually contact people on this list. Which then, yes, brought me and at that time also Claudia Whitlow and also Maria, they reached out to me, they were quite active with our ladies. And also with the general geospatial Open Source community. Maria is active there. And they reached out at like, oh yes we need something like this, let’s do it.

And so then we, the three of us we agreed to set up a mailing list, to get things started where people can sign up and also a Slack channel. And yes, and so basically this was the beginning. And then some weeks later also Olive Powell who is at the moment also co-director in Women in Geospatial, she is based in the UK. She also reached out and said, “Oh see I actually had the same idea. So maybe it’s, we can join forces” and instead of her building up something in the UK, we could actually really work together and work developing a global network.

And yes that’s what we basically- So it then started, so we presented the first time Women in Geospatial at a conference in Milan at the Living Planet Symposium in 2019. And there we organised a panel discussion which was surprisingly very successful at that time. But before I was quite nervous because the network was just like two months old and we just said, like, we have this idea but let’s see where we go from here. And this was also a time where I got to know Sabrina Szeto and she also together with Olive Powell, she has been very instrumental in setting up the network for the past three years.

SG: From the start the proof was in the numbers this network was needed. And I wanted to hear from Julia what kind of experiences the network shared.

JW: It was like the challenge I find at the moment with systematic bias is, and compared to what we had maybe 50 years ago, is that 50 years ago we had obvious discrimination. So it was like, it really happened obviously. And it was also difficult for women to actually do something against it, but it was obvious. And now we have like thanks to a lot of law regulations, this is actually not allowed anymore to have this public discrimination which is also good and very important.

But it doesn’t mean that just because there is a law that this discrimination just stopped. It’s just at the moment, it’s just very hidden and every one of us has experienced the situation where you’re in a team meeting and you make a proposal and no one says something. And then just two people further then the same proposal comes up and everyone is applauding for example. And you just sometimes feel like, okay, what language do I speak? It’s like, so- And I think, and this is exactly the situation where everyone just nods and they’re like, okay yes, exactly I feel it. But it’s often that everyone has- So we, it’s happening quietly because we don’t have like in these situations, like a group with us who say, okay come on, this was already addressed. Or, hey this person hasn’t said something yet. So maybe what is your opinion on this, you know.

And so it was like, it was not that a lot of people came to me, it was just that like a general frustration where I also think, okay, if this happens to me, this is not only because it happens only to me. So it’s also like a general problem. And I think the start of Women in Geospatial is just like finding my- I don’t say I have all the answers, it’s more like together with the network, finding answers and finding a good way how we can also collectively have an impact and make a change.

SG: So how do they that then? How does Women in Geospatial work?

JW: So our activities, so we are like organised in a- So we call it steering committee or leadership team. And we have like now around 20 highly motivated women around the globe involved in different activities. And also bringing these activities forward. And our activities are divided to inspire, to unite and to empower. And so the idea with this is so, inspire, we see this as our task to advocate for diversity and also to raise awareness. And this is what we do with our social media channels but also by running events, by creating networking opportunities and then our unite pillar also comes in, so that basically we want to create different places where people can meet, where people can exchange themselves. And luckily now next week our first in-person event, or one of the first in-person events after the pandemic starts again.

And so before the pandemic we also had like doing conferences, we had these gatherings and we created these, just these opportunities and places where people could network, could get to know each other. But also the Slack channel is a very important resource where people can meet. And I also had got already some feedback from people who signed up who said like, okay, this is just like such a huge resource because we are now more than 3,800 women+ who signed up for the network. And so it’s basically by entering this lecture, now you have access to the expertise and experience and perspectives from, yes, around 3,800 women working in the same field.

And so we have different channels depending on what you’re interested in. So on regional channels so that you can also network more regionally. And you can meet people who live closer to you. But also channels like where we share job advertisements, where we share events, where we discuss about diversity or leadership. And so on, yes. And then, so this is more like creating just these opportunities to come together.

And then we have another pillar where we want to empower our members. And this is really where we see an important part because it’s also about developing confidence in- So this is we think one of the major pillars that needs to be worked on, that if we are all more confident we are also more confident to speak up against specific biases, unconscious or conscious. And also to speak up for ourselves but also for others and saying, hey this is not correct what’s happening here. And under this empower pillar we have this mentorship programme which is really successful.

We have now the third edition this year and around 100 women, peer to peer mentorship groups. And so it’s like a year long mentorship programme where they also get like a programme or suggestions to follow. But usually they meet every month and then also develop a mentorship plan where they want to, what they want to accomplish during this mentorship year. And we also run, there’s a webinar series on career development. So this is really where we also say we want to share tips from experts in the field, how they developed their career, what maybe helped them. But also general leadership skills, how people can work on leadership skills. Like just yesterday we had a webinar on how you- On positive intelligence or how you also change your mindset on approaching different things in life.

SG: That’s so great. And for example for a woman who is perhaps the only woman on her team, she can join Women in Geospatial and learn and be empowered. And then take those skills back to her job and maybe with a bit more confidence be able to advance as well in her career.

JW: This is exactly the idea. Also what we say is that basically, so because this is, I think we see it from, so 20 years ago there was still this- There was this glass ceiling and we also have this glass ceiling at the moment. So it’s quite easy to get entry level positions but then really going, or advancing in your career, it’s getting harder and harder and we see less women there. And then those women who actually made it, they- We didn’t see that they actually were big supporters for other women. And this is often the problem because they saw it more like, okay, I did it myself so others also have to figure it out, you know.

So and this is what we also, with Women in Geospatial we say like, okay be a supporter and even- So you can be a mentor because a lot of people also tell me, I know I’m still too young, I can’t be a mentor. But you can also be a mentor for maybe different skills, you know. So just see it as like okay, you can learn from others in this network but at the same time you can also give back. And this is exactly what we need. And then also you have to give it back and bring it into your organisation and your team.

SG: But is that enough? How can organisations improve to change the status quo?

JW: I think we see it in the long term we need both. We need a top down and we need a bottom up approach. So the bottom up approach is what I discussed already a bit. It’s where we think to, by developing this personal confidence, or this individual professional confidence, we all become actors of change, because the more confident we are, the more we are empowered to speak up and the more we will also do it. And so we also say it to everyone individually, don’t be afraid, speak up for others and for yourself. Also, it’s also just simple like probably I often also say to people become comfortable with being uncomfortable because it is like we want to foster, we want to have a change and this doesn’t, this doesn’t go in- Or this doesn’t happen with being comfortable.

So it also means we have to go out of our comfort zone and address issues which are issues, and not- Because otherwise we will not change anything. But we also need this top down approach where we strategically also work with organisations. And also give them, maybe, so we first of all raise awareness about these biases. And then also give them tips how they can also make changes. And how they can increase diversity in their organisations. And there I would say there is still, at least from my perspective and the organisations I know it’s still a long way to go.

Specifically also with being open to change because this also means for organisations that it’s not easy, right. Because otherwise if it was easy then we wouldn’t have a problem. So this means really actively working on this problem or on this challenge. And this means looking out for like if you have a job ad, really specifically looking for promoting this job ad in different channels to bring already a more diverse candidate pool in for the job. But also then when you interview, it’s important is to have a diverse interview panel and not only one woman and then five men for example.

So and this is, like but this is, yes, and I see there is still a long way to go but I think the more women individually also in their organisations ask for this, or they also address it, and the more awareness is raised about, and more people say, okay but this is not right, so maybe this is, with this we are not, we don’t hire diverse for example. I think the more pressure also comes to these organisations to also through the outside to show that they actually make an effort to be diverse and to also create diverse teams to respect diverse perspectives etc.

SG: Julia mentioned a Slack channel and I wanted to hear about the importance of having a non-judgemental discussion group.

JW: Yes so, yes so this is, we run a mailing list is open for women and allies. So everyone can sign up for this mailing list but the Slack is for women+ exclusively. And the reason for this is that we really want to have, or we want to enable, or to use it, or want to, we see it is a platform that really honours and opens discussions. And this is so far to be honest since we set it up for three, yes, since, in 2019 for the past three years, this really works very well. So there is for anything you would like to discuss, so we had like some members who also came into this sometimes really difficult situations at work where they also just said, like, look this is the situation. How do you see it? Or what would you do?

And then others see it, oh they might share that they’ve been in a similar situation or they also maybe also already established more confidence. And then they said, okay, this is not an offer you can actually agree on. And maybe this is also a good approach. So maybe try to do it like this and this. Or they also give advice. And this is really important to not feel judged. And to really also have this opportunity to say, okay I am not too inexperienced. I am not too anything, I can just be myself and I can ask for advice and people will not judge me, people who are there actually they want to help me and they want to support me. And that’s the reason why we said, okay this is our group where only our members and yes, women+ members can discuss and can share their advice.

SG: And just to clarify when you say women+ what do you mean by that?

JW: Yes so for anyone from an under-represented gender background. So any person from an under-represented gender background. So it can be women, but also those who identify as women etc. That’s why we say it’s not only, so we don’t want to exclude anyone else.

SG: I’d seen Julia talk previously about young women leaving the geospatial industry and I wanted to hear more about it.

JW: Yes I think it’s not only a problem of the geospatial industry. So I think it’s, like we see this in, I would say many domains. And I think it’s even stronger the more technical the domain becomes. Reasons for that are really, I think they can be quite, or yes, they can be quite various. So first of all of course the difficulties may be advancing in your career if you didn’t progress and everyone else is promoted and you feel stuck.

And you try and you do, you put a lot of energy in but it doesn’t work, then it leads automatically to frustration. And I think that the older you get the less you are- You want to cope with this and you just then say, okay you know my lifetime is just too precious. And then a lot, unfortunately, a lot of people they leave the field they really fell in love with at the beginning.

This is caused by the systematic bias which is there. But then of course also just social set ups which also women are brought up. So it’s like this natural development, what we see, okay once there are children and then for some reason maybe women then they have just more care work to do. Or they also just take over more care work. And then at some point also it gets a bit like, they just struggle too much. And it’s just too much. And this is also a reason why then also just people might also not leave, they leave for a period but then they just might come back at some point.

This is like systematic and societal challenges I would say. And what Women+ in Geospatial is doing, what I already said is first of all raising the awareness that this exists. And that also young professionals entering the field, that this might come up also, that they are also aware of it. And they also see others, role models, who are maybe also, already have a family and they see work full time. Or they still advance in their career. Or they are still involved.

So there’s like this role model aspect which I think it’s very important. And yes, and then in companies like, or in organisations that leads to frustration, that people can’t advance. Yes, this is more like just not giving up. And then if you see maybe in this organisation, okay you really, you are undervalued and maybe you also have to think about, okay maybe it’s, it’s maybe the right organisation. And so also be confident in your skills and in your, what you know and your expertise. And also just say, okay this is not the right place. I want more. And you can’t give it to me. And this is again like then having this opportunity to discuss this also with others in the Slack channel where people also support you in maybe making a decision to leave an organisation and look for a place where you are more valued.

SG: Yes. I think that’s such an important point because as women we are perhaps thought to be more humble and grateful for any opportunity. But now that most of us work, we shouldn’t be grateful to get a job or like you said to get an entry level job.

JW: No exactly. So it’s like, this is what we say we want to have a geospatial community where all genders can thrive and everyone has the opportunities and the options. So if they want to make a career, if they want to advance, then they should have the chance. But at the same time, in yes, it’s- But it’s, yes, at the moment still challenging. But yes. But important is I think this is also with Women in Geospatial this is also what I wanted to say is basically like it’s often, you don’t get direct feedback.

So like with the network as well, so that you, of course you put a lot of- You run a lot of activities. You also approach a lot of organisations and especially the, the best example what really brings me to frustration every year is actually during International Women’s Day. Because now it’s started that a lot of organisations, I call this diversity washing, so that basically organisations who actually don’t make an actual effort during the year about anything related to diversity, but then they take on this International Women’s Day and then say, “Look these awesome women who are working for us.” And “Oh yes we are so happy to have them.”

But like in reality it’s like, okay, a lot of women, so okay they are there but yes, they maybe didn’t advance as others you know. And they are quite stuck. So it’s like if they don’t address the systematic issue, yes, we have to speak up what we want and not just being, okay. Because this is also often seen that like okay let your work speak for yourself. And this is also good because I think you should do good work. But you should also seize opportunities where you can grow, where you can be visible. And I think one important thing also to not only look for mentors but also for sponsors. So people who know your name and who also when the doors are closed, who put in your name for, as a suggestion to okay she is doing good work, maybe she could be also a good candidate for promotion or for this project etc.

SG: If someone wanted to join Women in Geospatial where would they start?

JW: Ah yes, just go to our website on And there is right on the right top there is like a Join button. And then there is a form to fill in. It says, it’s not a lot of information. It’s more we are also interested in what region where you come from, your name, your email address and then you have this option where you can say add me to the Slack channel and/or mailing list. And then you will be added to the Slack channel and/or mailing list based on your preferences.

SG: Women in Geospatial started in 2019. It’s such a young organisation which has grown very quickly. And I wanted to hear what their focuses are at the moment and what they are currently working towards.

JW: Yes so we are since last October, we are now a registered community interest company in the UK. So basically it’s just since last October we are like an entity and now we can also operate as an entity. Before we were like just an idea, like a grass roots organisation which was just growing. So we formed an interim executive port consisting of six members. And so it’s like myself, Sabrina Szeto and Olive who are the three directors. And then for each pillar we also have a pillar lead. And the six of us, until the end of this year we aim to bring this organisation, to establish the organisation that it is sustainable, so it is developed as a formal organisation. And also a lot of, it’s a lot of operations we have to set in place to bring people on board, like onboarding processes. But also the accounting to make sure that everything is correct in this perspective.

And then we also want to have, or we want to open it up to have like an annual election, like the board and the directors are elected and also the leadership team. And so at the moment everything is a bit interim and it was more like appointed based on who would like to, who was already involved in the organisation for the past years, and who would like to help setting this up. But then we also want to really make it transparent and everyone will have the chance to take on a leadership position.

But this is for now, for this year the focus to formalise things better and to make things more smooth, from transitioning from a grass roots organisation to really more an established network. And then, yes, continue to really work on our mission, to also, one part will be also to really partner with organisations and also see how we could best help them. And then again also, and this will be always our, one of the main activities, to really also work on this bottom up approach to support our members in their professional ambitions and personal development and also creating networking activities. Because network is also really important aspect in your professional life in general, so there is so many opportunities that can just come up from having a wide network and just talking to people.

SG: [Music] That’s it for now. Thank you so much to Julia Wagemann for joining the podcast. I really enjoyed this and I hope those listening can continue this conversation in their workplace. If you want to follow the work Women in Geospatial do, you can find them on Twitter @geospatialwomen or visit Thank you very much for listening. Should you wish to contact us you can tweet us @Delibthinks or email This episode is hosted, edited and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven, our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. I’ll be back in a month with another episode. Until then you can visit for great content and people making practical change improving democracy. Bye!

SG: [Music] That’s it for now. Thank you so much to Julia Wagemann for joining the podcast. I really enjoyed this and I hope those listening can continue this conversation in their workplace. If you want to follow the work Women in Geospatial do, you can find them on Twitter @geospatialwomen or visit Thank you very much for listening. Should you wish to contact us email This episode is hosted, edited and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven, our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. I’ll be back in a month with another episode. Until then you can visit for great content and people making practical change improving democracy. Bye!