At this impactful and uplifting three-day meeting, 65 surveyors were empowered by our growing numbers, our stories of resilience, and our group determination to work in a profession we love.
Over the past 22 years of working in the land surveying profession, I have had the opportunity to work with two female professional land surveyors. That is correct, only two. That equals one female for every 11 years. The time spent as colleagues was approximately two years each. For a grand total of … four years.
If you are still with me and doing the math, I have spent 18 years of my professional life engaging solely with male professional land surveyors.
Naturally, when I received the opportunity to attend the [new] Women Surveyors Summit in Austin, Texas in August, I jumped at it.
[Editor’s Note: While this 2019 summit is the first of what is hoped will be an ongoing initiative and other future meetings, there is an ongoing history of such initiatives. Most notably for North America was the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Forum for Women in Surveying, initiated in 1983. The 2019 Women in Surveying Summit is a way to honor, continue, and build upon the impactful work of such initiatives.]
For my male peers out there who might find this phenomenon a bit hard to relate to, imagine working as a teacher or a nurse in a female-dominated field where you are the only male. Always, the only male. As you might surmise, it can be a tad isolating at times, and even though I am a self-described “tomboy” who enjoys fishing and hunting, I also like to hang out with other women. Especially other women surveyors, although they’re hard to find.
From the moment I arrived in Austin—and especially after the first ice breaker—I knew this was going to be unlike any other professional land surveying conference I’d attended. I meant to stay at the ice breaker for only one hour, but I found myself engrossed in such an engaging conversation that I stayed for four.
The time flew as I conversed with a wonderful lady from Virginia. We compared our career paths and realized we worked with or knew many of the same people. Our conversation eventually turned to the 2022 datum, leading to an honest and sometimes blunt discussion regarding our specific regions and the role of women in social media as surveyors.
I’m not sure what everyone else in the room was talking about, but from what I could see the 30 or so professional women who were gathered in that bar that night were in no hurry to leave. It was obvious we were all having interesting and meaningful conversations. I remember feeling like our collective shells were breaking, and a network of supportive professional females was emerging.
While in Austin over the course of the next three days, I felt totally relaxed, like a superficial burden had been lifted. We openly discussed our experiences as females without bearing the pretenses or judgments we armor ourselves against in our everyday work environments. The opportunity to collaborate, meet, socialize, network, create friendships, and form new professional bonds, together as women surveyors, made Austin a unique conference experience.
There we were the norm rather than the oddities, sore-thumbs, or rarities. We were the majority. We found ourselves congregated in the women’s bathroom exchanging telephone numbers, ideas, the good, the bad, and the ugly places we worked. This experience proved that women need women. We need each other to bounce ideas off, to collaborate with, to collude with, to plan, strategize, and imagine a world where we aren’t the exception any longer but considered a normal presence.
As our profession diversifies and our numbers increase, I hope that we all remember that meanness and callousness is not a male-versus-female problem. Rather, it is a human problem, as one of the surveyors pointed out during a panel discussion.
So why then is it important for us, as women, to find and create opportunities for collaboration? In my mind, it is because we are still sparse in number and celebrating the bond that ties us together, and our unique place amid a fun and dynamic profession is important.
Simply put, because we should, we can, and it is fun.
In Austin, we laughed and sometimes cried. But we parted feeling empowered by our growing numbers, our thoughtfulness, individual stories of resilience, and our group determination to work in a profession we love.
I will never forget this group of women and the feeling of being special that we all shared during this new women in surveying summit. Anna Rios—and everyone from the Texas Professional Land Surveyors Association—deserve commendation for putting on such a wonderfully unique experience. Sixty-five professional women gathered, new friendships blossomed, ideas were shared, and it is a fact: we will gather again. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the USACE or the DOD.