Women in GIS – March 8, 2023

Close-up portrait photograph of the blog post author Tamara Davis

I have been the King County GIS Center Manager for over a year and am finally getting around to authoring a post for our blog. I must admit that posting content when I first started this job felt a bit daunting because I didn’t want to just introduce myself, but now I have something more to say. With a year-and-a-half under my belt there is so much to talk about! I’d like to express what an honor and privilege it has been working with the KCGIS Center’s talented group of men and women. I learn something from them every day and I am excited about where we are headed.

Today I want to acknowledge International Women’s Day and that King County’s Women in Technology event chose “Women in GIS” to feature as the spotlight. It took this event for me to fully realize that I am the first woman to be in the top leadership position for GIS in King County. It is hard to believe that since I started in 1994 the time finally arrived after 27 years. The good news is that we have nearly a 1:2 ratio of women to men in the KCGIS Center. Yes, that is good news because that ratio used to be much lower!

I am taking this opportunity to introduce nine exceptional women in the King County GIS Center and share their questions and answers about women in GIS which were featured during our Women in Technology event.

Debbie Bull

Selfie photo of blog post contributor Debbie Bull outdoors with pet dog playing in water

What have you learned from your journey as you advanced in your career in GIS?

Communication breakdown is the greatest barrier to progress in producing optimal solutions efficiently. Cultivating open communication, with honest and timely updates for changing priorities, is the best thing we can do to build better solutions across the board.

What changes would you like for women in the technology space?

De-emphasize competition and the competitive mindset, especially in comparing ourselves to others. Promote co-operation and collaboration as the means for achieving our vision, as well as our best work. The teams I work with are excellent at this.

What would you say to help encourage/mentor women if they were considering the GIS profession?

Be true to yourself and consider your values. Think about how you want to spend your time and how you would like things to be.

What do you see as a problem that needs fixing, or an opportunity worth taking in the world and how it is run? What is your vision for improvement? Get the data to define it and communicate a better vision for the future.


Ask yourself which interests you more, technology or some other field. Technology and GIS are relevant to any field. Technology, including GIS, is a tool in any field. If you have a prominent interest in a non-technical field, consider the “where” and “when” aspects to that particular field—that is, pursue the field and include GIS studies. If pure tech and problem-solving—abstract and applied—is of interest, get into tech. In either case, there is plenty of work. For the long game, find something that is valuable and satisfying to you personally.

AND, finally, a short anecdote that I think encapsulates great advice for anyone seeking work anywhere, but maybe especially women in IT. My niece is looking at offers from graduate school programs in statistics, economics, and applied mathematics. She’s in the happy position of having multiple offers to choose from, and being courted by these kinds of departments. She had the good fortune to meet with a recent PhD in one department who is very highly regarded in her field. She asked her, “How do I choose?” And her response was “My advice to you is to pay attention to the culture of the departments you visit.”

Trang Bui

Photograph of blog post contributor Trang Bui holding small pet dog that is wearing a pink pearl collar

Why do you think it is important for women to consider the GIS profession?

The reason why we need women in the IT/GIS field is that gender diversity reduces the gender bias that is currently prevalent in male-dominated industries. Diversity of ethnicities and gender also leads to innovation, increased workplace safety, and less employee turnover. Women can bring a fresh approach and offer unique perspectives to meet challenges, solve problems, and design new products. I would love to see more women or young women join the GIS center.

The shift to remote work has changed the dynamic between home and work life. What changes have you seen?

I had problems the first couple of months from managing my time, but I love it now. I save two hours every day without the commute. I have more focus working from home since there are no distractions from co-workers. Our team communicates more thru Teams app daily. Our team is doing well working remotely from home. I think meeting in person once a month is very good for brainstorming.

Yuko Caras

Close up photograph of blog post contributor Yuko Caras smiling into the camera with glasses on top of her head

What have you learned from your journey as you advanced in your career in Information Technology/GIS?

I worked in a couple of software companies before shifting to GIS. There was only one female developer and one female in management in both companies then. I had to show and prove that I could do the same or better than men. My supervisor saw it, supported me, and backed me, and that was wonderful! It made my life so much easier and better at work. I feel GIS has more female presence than the general IT field. People in GIS seem to listen more and to have better teamwork and customer relations.

What changes would you like for women in the technology space?

More women in management. I’m glad to have Tamara as a head of GIS.

The shift to remote work has changed the dynamic between home and work life. What changes have you seen?

I feel women have more work at home in general especially if they have kids, older family members or anyone with certain needs to take care of. Working from home is great for no commute time and doctors visits without taking a half day off, or something like that. The downside is that there is no break between work and home, and you are constantly “on.” It is very important to take a break and take care of yourself to be mentally healthy. I had to rethink my professional growth to balance work and home.

Toni Carpenter

Close-up portrait photograph of blog post contributor Toni Carpenter

What would you say to help encourage/mentor women if they were considering the GIS profession?

I really love the creativity of GIS. I think that makes it accessible to everyone. I’m proud to work with the other women in the GIS Center. They are so smart and resourceful and willing to collaborate on projects. I’m not intimidated to ask them questions. I’m always learning from them and so grateful for the awesome women we have in GIS.

I would encourage all women who work in a field that collects or analyzes data to explore GIS to see how it could complement their work. It may not look straightforward at first, but GIS tools can really add another dimension to your data. You may find patterns that weren’t visible before. Women should feel encouraged to look outside the box for solutions and GIS is a perfect tool for that.

Janise Fessenden

Photograph of blog post contributor Janise Fessenden on the right posing at an event with former King County Executive, Ron Sims
Janise with former King County Executive, Ron Sims

How would you encourage people to add GIS analysis to their toolbox?

I strongly recommend GIS technology for analytical, detail-oriented people because it is incredibly fun in so many ways. Enjoying your work and having fun on the job is the best!

What changes, good or bad, have you seen in your professional life in terms of gender-based responsibilities and visibility?

During my entire working career, I have experienced and seen great strides in gender-equality. In my opinion, there is room for improvement at all levels of the workforce, particularly in the way responsibilities and projects are offered or assigned and who receives recognition and equal respect. I hope that true equality of all types will continue to evolve to a better reality for future generations.

Harkeerat Kang

Photograph of blog post contributor Harkeerat Kang posing with work colleagues at an Esri conference, all showing thumbs up along with Esri co-founder Jack Dangermond
Harkeerat, third from left, with KCGIS Center colleagues and Jack Dangermond (to her left)

What have you learned from your journey as you advanced in your career in Information technology/GIS?

Over time I have learned that GIS is not just about geography and location. It adds a spatial dimension to many fields of science, technology, and any analysis. You can apply GIS to any issue or study, and it adds value in understanding the problem better.

What changes would you like for women in the technology space?

Participate more, learn more, don’t fear GIS or IT.

Do women bring a different perspective to GIS?

Women in the IT or GIS field to me foremost means inclusion and building teams that are diverse and equitable. This means women have a seat on the table. Women should feel empowered that they have so much to contribute and should not leave brilliant career opportunities. It never hurts to try. We have a good representation of women in the GIS Center and a few more women would be a great.

Lisa Owen

Close-up photograph of blog post contributor Lisa Owen looking down with two pet birds perched on her head

How is GIS different or the same as IT?

What would you say to help encourage/mentor women if they were considering the IT profession?

See Lisa’s responses in her separate blog post, “GIS is everywhere (and everything, all at once).”

Evelyn Torres

Close up photograph of blog post contributor Evelyn Torres wearing her King County employee ID badge

What have you learned from your journey as you advanced in your career in Information Technology?

As I’ve progressed in my career in GIS and information Technology, I have learned the importance of keeping up with new technologies, adapting to change and continuously improving my skills. I have also learned that effective communication, problem-solving and collaboration are essential for success in this field. Additionally, I have learned the importance of prioritizing data accuracy and process automation to deliver solutions that meet customer needs.

What changes would you like for women in the technology space?

I would like to see more women in leadership positions in the technology industry, as well as more women entering and staying in the GIS field. This could be achieved through increased support and resources for women in technology, such as mentorship programs, training, and development programs. In addition, addressing issues such as gender bias, discrimination and unequal pay can help create a more diverse and inclusive technology industry and will lead to greater innovation as well as better representation of the diverse needs and perspectives of their users.

What would you say to encourage women if they were considering the GIS profession?

I would encourage women to embrace their curiosity and passion for technology and pursue their goals with determination and confidence. GIS is used in various industries and there are many different paths within IT. Therefore, finding one that aligns with your interests and strengths is key to success. Including GIS analysis in their toolbox opens more opportunities and provides valuable insights into data and spatial relationships that can inform decision-making in a variety of fields.

Mary Ullrich

Close up photograph of blog post contributor Mary Ullrich smiling into the camera

What have you learned from your journey as you advanced in your career in GIS?

With GIS there is always something new to learn—from configuring an application for a great customer experience to learning Python code to automate GIS workflows to examining the different ways to display data to tell your story. GIS is different than IT in that it’s mixing social, environmental, mathematical and computer science. This means there are more entry points to step into a GIS career.

What changes would you like for women in the technology space?

I’d like to see women being encouraged to explore more in the technology and GIS space. There are lots of job positions in these spaces, but entry level positions and opportunities to grow and progress to higher level positions seems to be lacking. Supporting women in growing in their positions and striving for higher positions needs to be encouraged.

The shift to remote work has changed the dynamic between home and work life. What changes have you seen?

Professionally, I feel like I’ve been able to participate more. In the office, I was accepting/rejecting meetings partially based on where they were. So, for example, I wasn’t trooping up to the Chinook Building unless I HAD to. I’m sure others were applying this tactic. We’ve seen a marked increase in participation of our weekly and monthly GIS user group meetings. Also, working remotely means a very flexible schedule. I’m able to work earlier/later to make up the time I may have missed to appointments or childcare during the day.

2 thoughts on “Women in GIS – March 8, 2023

  1. Ann, you couldn’t be more right! There are indeed many other talented women working in GIS at King County. This content was from KCIT’s Women in Technology event on International Women’s Day. It was completely unintentional to exclude them from the collective “Women in GIS” and more to feature the women in the KCGIS Center that are part of KCIT. I do appreciate the acknowledgement of the other King County Women in GIS!

    Liked by 1 person

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