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Sight Lines: Where is the Diversity?

December 16, 2008
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A reader called me last week with the question, “Why doesn’t POB highlight many women and racial minorities in its articles?” The quick and easy answer is that we are largely reflecting our audience: As evidenced by the attendees at numerous conferences and trade shows, the vast majority of individuals in the surveying profession in the U.S. are white males. While women and minorities have certainly made inroads over the past few decades, their numbers remain relatively small in comparison. But why is this so?

I suspect there are a number of reasons, all somewhat intertwined. Perhaps at the most basic level, there continues to be insufficient outreach to high school students who are evaluating various career paths. Several reports in recent years have pointed out that the number of skilled workers and college graduates entering the surveying profession is notably smaller than the number of surveyors nearing retirement. There have been some efforts on the part of surveyors, equipment dealers and educators to actively promote surveying as a profession-including a noteworthy initiative spearheaded by Delia K. Smith, PLS, in California, to establish a land surveying merit badge program in Girl Scouts modeled after a similar Boy Scouts of America program (as highlighted in the Fall 2008 issue of California Surveyor). However, more is undoubtedly needed to draw young men and women of all races into this noble profession.

Another issue is interest. For example, while I know several young women who excel in math and would probably do well in a career in an engineering-related field, none of these women is eager to spend time outdoors hauling heavy equipment over rugged terrain. Their idea of adventure is more likely to involve traipsing through cyberspace than physical space, and I would wager that this idea holds true for a number of mathematically inclined young men as well.

Interestingly, the trend toward increasing education requirements for surveying licensure might help diversify the profession simply based on statistics. According to the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Minorities in Higher Education 2008 Twenty-third Status Report, minorities outpaced whites in the percentage change in total degrees awarded at all levels over the past decade. Minority women showed stronger gains than minority men at all degree levels. Additionally, regardless of race, more women than men are earning college degrees. According to ACE, 36 percent of young men were enrolled in college in 2006 compared with 44 percent of young women. But the question of how to draw more of these young people toward a career in surveying remains.

Perhaps changes within the profession will make this question irrelevant. Related fields such as GIS and computer modeling don’t show the same disparity. As these fields become more tightly interwoven with surveying, it is likely that the tapestry of the profession will also become more diverse in race, gender and age.

These are just my thoughts. I welcome your opinions and insights on this topic, especially from women and minorities who are practicing in this field. What challenges have you encountered, and what changes do you think are needed to promote diversity in this profession? Please comment below or write to me at pobeditor@bnpmedia.com.

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