Women Leading the Way in India’s Geospatial Sector

On this International Women’s Day, the Association of Geospatial Industries (AGI) celebrates the remarkable women shaping the future of the geospatial sector in India. From policymaking to strategy & partnerships, government relations to marketing, these leaders drive innovation, foster collaboration, and push boundaries across diverse verticals in their respective organisations.

The blog features interviews with five leaders in the Geospatial sector, sharing their views on women’s roles, experiences, opportunities, challenges, and singularity in the field. Through their journeys and insights, we aim to showcase the diverse contributions of women and inspire others to join this dynamic and ever-evolving field.

What initially drew you to your career?

Dr. Shubha Pandey, Scientist E, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India: I was always fascinated by science from a very young age. I was intrigued by various processes happening around me, such as the power of steam, the conversion of milk to curd, and the sublimation of camphor. As I grew older, my curiosity and desire to rationalize these processes only became stronger. This led me to pursue a career in STEM. 

Roli Agarwal, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Google: My career choices have always been guided by a passion for technology, endless curiosity for the “why” of things and a desire to change the world for the better! Growing up in a small town, I was fascinated by science and technology, not in a theoretical kind of way but more with its application to improve everyday life. I had a flair for communication – honed with voracious reading, active debating, and formal study choices (read: english literature and psychology).

In hindsight, it is not surprising that I started my career in PR and communications. In the very first few years of my career, I got a chance to work with an impressive portfolio of technology and telco clients, right from chip to computer manufacturers, telecom hardware, internet and even business intelligence companies. I had to simplify their tech and tell stories to land product launches, manage crises, hire talent
and communicate with industry influencers.

To do this well, I had to learn “tech” first and fast! This experience ingrained in me the ability to connect the dots across complex and seemingly disparate information. I would work my way through a mountain of content, flexing mental muscles that could zoom out while keeping a sharp eye on the important detail. This skill is the bedrock for any strategy role. And I enjoy doing this a lot, sometimes even in conversations!

While at Google I moved from doing communications to doing partnerships. I wanted to acquire a new
industry perspective and skills while staying true to my career guiding principles. And with Google Maps
came an unparalleled opportunity to help billions of people around the world! My experience has taught me to see collaboration and partnerships as an accelerator. When the right people/ products/ technology come together, everything gets better! I am privileged to be in a role where I get to do this every day.

Rashmi Gupta, Head – Marketing, Esri India: Being a commerce student, I developed an early interest in marketing. Later, as I pursued specialized education in the field, this interest strengthened. Marketing involves understanding consumer needs, behaviors, and preferences. It is an engaging field that involves the application of diverse skills -communication, analytics, management, and psychology. This is exciting.

Additionally, working in tech marketing allows one to be at the forefront of technological advancements and raise awareness about cutting-edge products and services. This provides opportunities for creativity and problem-solving as we work toward communicating complex technical concepts in simple, interesting ways that resonate with a broader audience.

Everything today is driven by technology. Tech products often aim to address real-world problems, and tech marketers have the opportunity to contribute to the promotion of solutions that can make a positive impact on people’s lives. This is a dimension that adds a unique flavor to the field of tech marketing, making it a more satisfying experience.

Sonam Sahni, External Affairs Manager, HERE Technologies: I was drawn to a career in public policy and government relations, specifically in tech, due to my passion for the intersection of technology and society. I am fascinated by the impact of technology on governance and regulations and am driven to shape policies that foster innovation while addressing societal concerns. Working in this field allows me to leverage my skills to contribute to the development of policies that promote responsible and inclusive use of technology for the benefit of society.

Ananya Naraain, Vice President, Consulting, Geospatial World: My trajectory towards a career in strategy, research, and consulting, with a focus on geospatial technology, was influenced by a confluence of my academic foundation in economics and a profound intrigue with the existent scarcity in market research and consulting specific to this sector. The pivotal factor that stimulated my interest was the discernible void in dialogues among key stakeholders regarding the intrinsic market, and socio-economic value of geospatial technologies—a narrative common to technological advancements at large.

My ambition has always been to pioneer in dissecting and articulating the complex yet superficially straightforward domain of geospatial technology. I find it challenging but exhilarating to unearth the global market potential while evaluating its socio-economic impacts to refine marketing and communicative strategies within the industry. Additionally, the opportunity to interlink technology, policy, and economics—a triad often overlooked yet paramount in technology sectors—has been particularly stimulating. This endeavour is both a personal and professional odyssey to employ my competencies and insights in cultivating innovative research strategies that drive transformation within the technological ecosystem.

In your experience, what key skills and experiences are crucial to success in general, or your success in the workspace?

Dr. Shubha Pandey: Diligent adherence to experimental protocols and learning from failures are crucial. Never losing hope and giving up are key aspects of scientific experimentation.

Roli Agarwal: In my experience, there are a few core skills that irrespective of the industry can be most rewarding for any career in the long run. You need to be able to apply these skills in different settings. Personally I believe, you can build industry specific domain knowledge with discipline and concerted learning but polishing these skills takes time.

  • Communication and Collaboration: This is the people stuff – how you communicate and collaborate with them to unlock common challenges and find mutually rewarding solutions.
  • Strategic Thinking and Problem solving: Can you tackle ambiguity, and change with creativity? And connect the dots to find first of kind solutions.
  • Leadership: Can you influence without authority, and build opportunities for yourself and for others?

Sonam Sahni: In my view, strong communication and advocacy skills are most valued in this field to effectively convey complex technical information to policymakers and stakeholders. Additionally, strategic thinking and a deep understanding of regulatory landscapes are crucial for navigating government relations effectively. Relationship-building and networking abilities are also essential to cultivate partnerships and collaborations for any business.

Ananya Naraain: In the dynamic realm of research and consulting, particularly within the geospatial and broader technology sectors, success is contingent upon a multifaceted skill set that extends beyond mere technical expertise. This includes strategic foresight and the ability to lead with empathy. Indeed, while a profound grasp of technological intricacies is crucial, the real impact in these fields stems from the ability to simplify complex technologies into actionable insights and innovative solutions.

Key to this endeavour are skills such as analytical depth, exceptional problem-solving prowess, and a versatile mindset, all underpinned by a strong dedication to effective communication, teamwork, and forward-thinking leadership. Moreover, an appreciation for the interplay between policy, economics, and technology significantly enhances our capability to devise compelling value propositions. Promoting a culture that values diversity in thoughts and experiences is indispensable, fostering an environment ripe for innovation and adept at tackling sophisticated challenges with refined strategies.

To be more specific, thriving in the geospatial or technology sectors requires not only technical expertise but also adeptness in project management, communication, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. Hence, for professionals who would want to get into this field, being equipped with this comprehensive skill set—encompassing deep technical knowledge, analytical sharpness, problem-solving capabilities, and strong communicative and interpersonal abilities—will be exceptionally well-placed to drive meaningful progress and innovation within the technological landscape.

How has your experience influenced your approach to marketing geospatial solutions?

Rashmi Gupta: The tech industry thrives on innovation, and marketing plays a crucial role in communicating the value of innovative products and solutions. The geospatial industry is constantly evolving, with new trends, technologies, and market dynamics emerging regularly. Consequently, marketers need to stay constantly updated with the latest trends. With this approach, they can customize the marketing strategy to not only effectively market the products and solutions but also to make the target audience understand how the innovative solutions can make a difference in their business and society at large.

Understanding the market, the target audience and their pain areas is key to devising the marketing strategy and identifying the right marketing channels. A healthy marketing strategy includes a long-term plan that continuously strengthens the brand’s reputation and short-term plans to promote products/solutions and create demand. So, a marketing leader must continuously strike a balance between the two to propel the business toward its goals and achieve desired results.

On the other hand, there is a rise in the Martech tools and now with AI and GenAI, a lot is getting automated. While all these tools are great and should be utilized, human-to-human interaction should always remain focal for building long-term relationships with customers. The focus on the human touch should always prevail and technology can complement the strategy.

In your opinion, how can the geospatial industry attract and retain more women?

Roli Agarwal: I have been very impressed with the women leaders I have met in this industry. They serve as strong role models in how they have overcome personal and professional challenges while driving industry forward innovations. Your initiative to come out with this blog will help to communicate their journeys and hopefully inspire the younger generation to be more resilient and courageous! I am also encouraged by seeing senior male leaders stepping up to support, advocate and sponsor for equality. Support from these MARC groups (“Man Advocating Real Change”) is so important in driving change. At least, this has been my experience.

DEI challenges are not specific to the Geospatial industry, therefore we can adopt tried and tested industry programs to attract, support and retain women. Some programs that I have personally seen work are mentioned below. A more diverse workforce is a more innovative workforce, and the geospatial industry is at the helm of innovation to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

An equal opportunity industry: The geospatial industry, world over can come across as a male-dominated field especially when one attends industry forums and events. This perception can deter women, especially the younger lot from entering this field. By changing the narrative, we can encourage more women to consider a career in geospatial.
Offer mentorship programs and leadership training: Coaching and mentorship programs can
provide effective support to help women navigate important life transitions especially for returning mothers. Studies have shown that there is a major leak in the talent pipe at this life stage.
Promote a positive work environment: Creating a culture where women feel respected, supported, and valued is imperative. This may mean providing flexible work arrangements and childcare support in some cases, and/ or career development opportunities in others.

Rashmi Gupta: The IT industry accounted for 7.4% of India’s GDP in FY22, and this is expected to increase to 10% by 2025. The contribution of the geospatial sector to the Indian economy as per industry estimates is around INR 20,000 crore. It has the potential to grow annually at 25%. It can contribute to the economy to the tune of INR 1,00,000 crore and employ nearly 10 lakh people by 2029-2030. This contribution will be a crucial component as India envisions to emerge as a $30 trillion economy by 2047.

In the wake of such facts, we can no longer ignore the significant contribution the women workforce can make to almost every industry today. In fact, there is a dire need to harness this intelligence and work towards creating a more women-enabled workforce, and the geospatial industry is also making good progress in this domain. A lot of efforts are being made toward empowering women, coaching and mentoring them and the changes are visible. However, to make a bigger impact, the industry needs to take a holistic approach.

What is needed is a more inclusive environment, inclusive policies, and social conditioning to create an ecosystem that enables women to thrive in the workplace. Along with formulating supportive policies, companies must look at conducting training programs to raise awareness of unconscious biases and promote fair treatment in hiring, promotions, and daily interactions. It is an ongoing effort that involves not only women themselves but also their male counterparts.

Increasing the representation of women in leadership positions sends a powerful message about the organization’s commitment to gender diversity and can serve as inspiration for other women in the industry.

Sonam Sahni: The geospatial industry in India needs more diversity initiatives, mentorship programs, and professional growth opportunities specifically tailored to women. A more inviting environment for women in this profession can also be achieved by supporting gender equality in recruiting, promotion, and leadership roles as well as by highlighting prominent female role models. In order to encourage and inspire future women to pursue jobs in the geospatial field, it is crucial to create an inclusive and encouraging work environment for those who are already employed in this field.

Ananya Naraain: Attracting and retaining women in the geospatial industry demands a comprehensive strategy that addresses systemic barriers, cultivates talent, and champions diversity as a fundamental driver of innovation and organizational excellence. Efforts must focus on dispelling myths about leadership diversity, showcasing through empirical and anecdotal evidence that a diverse leadership cadre not only augments problem-solving capabilities but also significantly contributes to enhanced financial outcomes and innovation.

Viewing the inclusion of women in leadership not as a formal requirement but as a critical responsibility is vital. It is essential to evolve the narrative surrounding women in geospatial fields, highlighting the plethora of opportunities beyond traditional roles. Elevating the profiles of female leaders and innovators in this space can serve as a beacon for future generations, illuminating the extensive possibilities afforded by geospatial technologies.

I also think Initiatives like Geospatial World’s DEI initiative, the Women+ in Geospatial mentorship program, and contributions from industry vanguards play a pivotal role in demystifying the geospatial field for younger audiences and dispelling entrenched stereotypes. The establishment of supportive networks, leveraging digital marketing to underscore the field’s dynamism, and fostering mentorship and advocacy are imperative steps towards cultivating a more diverse, inclusive, and invigorated workforce. Highlighting the multifaceted advantages of diversity in leadership and forging supportive communities are crucial endeavors towards achieving a more equitable and innovative future for the geospatial industry.

Your vision for women shaping the future of the field, and message to them:

Dr. Shubha Pandey: Women are still outnumbered by men in STEM fields. However, I strongly believe that involving more women in these fields could lead to innovative and groundbreaking ideas. Women can bring in fresh perspectives and new avenues of innovation, which could ultimately lead to accelerated and novel advancements in STEM. By encouraging and supporting women in STEM, we can help shape the future of these fields in our country.

My advice to women pursuing a career in STEM: Always keep hope and trust in your abilities. A career in STEM may require a longer journey compared to other fields, so it’s essential to stay focused and believe in science.

Rashmi Gupta: Have a firm belief in your own potential and resolve to remain focused on your goals, come what may. Undoubtedly there will be challenges, there will be pull-offs, there can be times when you get affected by the dual role syndrome, but I feel, if your determination is strong, things will fall in place eventually, both at the workplace and outside the workplace.

Leave a Comment