As land surveying professionals, we all want the same thing — to do the best job we can do, serving the public in an accurate, honest and unbiased way. Land surveyors don’t make decisions lightly. Our decisions are based on the careful consideration of legal documents, land records, and evidence we’ve carefully gathered from the field — all filtered through years of seasoning and experience.
When I work with a client, I strive for a peaceful solution, even when that solution isn’t exactly what the client was hoping for. I want to create a mutually agreeable outcome that doesn’t end up in court, resulting in needless cost and acrimony. I am especially gratified when my expertise and insight have helped reconcile longstanding disagreements between neighbors.
Good training, careful work, hard-earned experience and the ability to put the public’s interest first is not the domain of gender. It is the domain of mature, conscientious professionals. In this regard, women are just as capable as men, and it is our responsibility as professional land surveyors to open doors for the next generation of land surveyors with equal expectations for all.
My hard-earned experience includes some unique insights because I started the profession back when few women were entering the surveying world.
As with many surveyors, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a land surveyor. I actually went to college to study music. While I was at college, I happened to take a geography class that turned out to be a revelation to me. Turns out I LOVED geography. And suddenly I understood that deep down I had always been drawn to it.
As a kid, I used to scour maps for hours, marveling at the unique view of the world that only a good detailed map can provide. So, from that moment on, I turned my attention to searching for a profession where my interest in geography could also build a career. Fortunately, the local tech college in northern Wisconsin offered a two-year land surveying degree.
When I was accepted, I was thrilled. However, this excitement quickly faded after meeting a well-respected leader in my community who also happened to be a surveyor. He went into great and lengthy detail about how surveying was a male-dominated profession that demanded physical strength, endurance and superior math skills. He pointed out that, as a woman, I would find these challenges daunting and likely defeating. Little did he know that his “helpful” lecture gave me the push I needed to dive right into the land surveying profession. No one likes being told what they can’t do.
From then on, it was my mission to make sure everything I was doing was top-notch. I gave it my all for the two years of the program, as well as my apprenticeships, and I finished with a 4.0 GPA.
One of the things that is highly recommended in surveying programs is to work as a survey tech for the summer. Despite my good grades and strong work ethic, finding a job was a struggle. I ultimately ended up working for a single-shingle surveyor, which gave me a great opportunity to get hands-on experience under my belt.
Admittedly, the environment wasn’t the best fit, but I made the most of it. I stuck it out, working through the summer, part-time in my final year in college, and for a few months beyond. During this time, I kept applying for but not landing other jobs. I needed greater opportunities for growth, learning, and more exposure to a wider variety of surveyors and projects. Then, nearly eight months after my graduation, I was hired as county surveyor for Marathon County, Wisconsin.
Finally, I joined a community of land surveyors where I was able to coordinate on projects, do research and benefit from mentorship. Over time, I earned my keep as a competent and capable surveyor. My practice of working harder, faster and longer continued as I became involved in the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors, eventually becoming its president and subsequently the national director for the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). My involvement in these organizations introduced me to other female land surveyors, and we shared similar paths to the profession and strengths. Because women have to work harder, faster and longer just to be considered equals, we develop a strong work ethic that is often funneled into building professional organizations.
Over the years, I have seen firsthand how the land surveying community has become more open and diverse. Yet we, of course, still have a ways to go. There’s a wage gap and needless roadblocks tied to gender. The fact that women don’t “look the part” of a land surveyor is an idea we all must work together to change. I’ve never wanted preferential treatment. I just want to be treated equally.
Every female surveyor that I know has had the experience of finally leading a job site, only to see a client approach a male on the crew and assume he is in charge. But it often doesn’t end there. Physical strength is also used to relegate women to supporting roles. Although it is true that I can’t heave out a 6” x 6” x 36” concrete monument out of the ground with brute strength (like some of my male surveyors can), technology now makes it so that we don’t need to anymore. Our profession has evolved so all of us can work smarter, not harder.
Is surveying a man’s world? It doesn’t have to be. And our longevity as a profession deeply depends on changing this narrative.
We certainly are capable, and I don’t know of any other profession where it’s possible to build such enduring and deep friendships at work. When surveyors go to meetings, it is more like a family reunion than a business meeting. We have had the time to get to know and care about each other, and we all feel united representing the profession to the best of our abilities.
Over the many learning experiences of a rewarding career, I’ve made land surveying my world and my hope is to inspire other women to do the same in any way that they can.
This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of POB Magazine.