When I started surveying, during college breaks in western New York, I was fortunate enough to work for a company owned by a woman. The party chief I worked for was a woman. As I moved up and became a chief myself, I was able to work with several other women as my rodperson. Women in the industry was my normal.
Now, as I approach my 30th year in the land surveying industry, to say that I have seen changes in the diversity over the last three decades would be misleading. Today I work with fewer females than I ever have. I find myself reflecting on my career path and thinking about what the future may hold for our industry.
The Lone Female
When I was 24, I moved to Las Vegas. I was the only female in the survey department of my new company. In my 10-plus years in Las Vegas, I worked with three other women surveyors, only one of which was licensed. It was quite the culture shock going from working with many women to being the only one. I hadn’t prepared myself for that.
I remember thinking, “Why aren’t there any women on the field crews here?” I had made the decision to switch from the field to the office because I wanted to pursue the drafting and boundary calculations portion of the industry. But I really did not expect to be the only female in the department.
Moving to Colorado and working in both Colorado and Montana, my female surveying co-workers increased to four; again, no other licensed women. I did find more women in some survey “cousins” – GIS, being a big one. So, while our work was different, we could still speak the same language. Different dialect, perhaps, but we still “got” each other.
It’s taken all of these 30 years, and I still don’t think I’m ever prepared when I get questioned on things just because I am a female. Yes, this still happens. I may have PLS after my name, but you would be surprised how many times emails sent to me reference the surveyor as a “he,” as if I am just the go-between from clients to the actual surveyor.
“Dear Ms. Jacobs, please forward the following request to the PLS and have him call me to discuss,” does indeed come through my email in-box. I also had a client literally gasp, “Oh! You’re a girl!” when I answered my direct line one afternoon recently. I don’t think I was quite prepared for that (especially as it was a female client), and it took me a few seconds to respond. “Yes, I am certainly a girl,” was my somewhat baffled response.
The Quota Filler
When I was starting out there was a big push toward getting women and minorities into engineering and construction fields. My father was so excited that I wanted to be a surveyor. “This is the perfect time, Stacy,” he said. “You’re a female, and companies are having to hire women now.”
Great, I think. I’m pretty sure I can speak for all females and minorities when I say that I want to be hired for my abilities and have the same opportunities as men, not just because I fill a quota. But that was what it was like back then. Unless you had an opportunity like I had, where you started working for a female surveyor and business owner, you pretty much needed to be that quota-filler to get a job.
I don’t believe it is that way today. I know the companies I have worked at would gladly hire any person that was qualified and fit into the company culture. There aren’t any more “quotas” to fill.
I do see more women at local chapter meetings and conferences than I used to. It’s like we seek each other out, give the head nod, “I see you, sister,” but we never really get to work together. I believe this is mostly because there still aren’t that many of us—yet.
I am hoping that the Women Surveyors Summit is still on in 2021. I am beyond excited to connect with my fellow female surveyors, and a whole conference of these wonderful ladies? Yes, please.
Attracting more Women
The big push for getting young women into STEM programs is wonderful. However, the land surveying industry seems to be kept out of the spotlight as an intriguing career path.
I have noticed that the trend in the inclusion of women in STEM is to gear young ladies into engineering fields – electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. But STEM isn’t just engineering. There are so many other career paths that are perfect for not only women, but anyone. Land surveying just happens to be my favorite.
So how do we move forward to be a more inclusive industry, including not only women, but other minorities as well? That seems to be the same question we asked ourselves 30 years ago.
I started my journey at Alfred State College in Alfred, New York, pursuing an architectural technologies degree. One of the required first-year courses was an introduction to surveying. I loved it. And found I had quite a knack for turning angles and traversing.
Had I not taken that surveying class as part of my architectural degree curriculum, would I even know such a field exists? I doubt it. In fact, I left Alfred State after my third semester and finished my architectural degree at Erie Community College, a local community college with an accredited architectural technologies program. Surveying wasn’t part of the course work there. It wasn’t even discussed.
Two years ago, the firm I work for had several engineering students shadow different managers. I loved being shadowed by the female in the group. She was so excited to see what I did.
“You mean, you get to work outside?” she asked. “And draft? How cool.” It made me excited to see that reaction. We spoke for quite a while on the surveying industry and the opportunities. We chatted about how surveying is one more career option for those with mathematical, artistic, and analytical minds.
Last year, our firm went to a local school and did a field presentation on surveying, showing the students the equipment, what it does, why what we do is important. It is opportunities like these that we, as professionals, need to seek out. If we want to strengthen our industry and make it more impactful to a wider range of people, we need to be the ones that pursue different avenues.
We go to the schools. We approach the math, art and other STEM teachers. Do they have students that excel in their courses, that love nature, being outside, enjoy puzzles and figuring out how pieces of history fit together? We’d love to talk with them.
We hire summer interns every year. We do presentations at middle schools, high schools, even colleges. We make the call to our local Girl Scouts and ask if we can do a presentation to introduce them to a whole other world of possibilities.
Job fairs for veterans are another great resource. The military uses many aspects of surveying in different Military Occupational Specialties.
Strengthening the industry isn’t just about welcoming more females, but other minorities as well. Although I am seeing a greater increase in minority males in the industry, we mustn’t leave our brothers behind. This is a main reason I believe focusing on veterans would be tremendously impactful for the future of land surveying.
There simply aren’t enough surveyors anymore. We have to reach further to find the next generation, a future generation that will follow in our footsteps. Though women’s contributions may be smaller than our male counterparts because there is still so few of us, we leave the same, long-lasting impressions.