What do you do when your career and the culture conflict? If you’re like our author, you look for new opportunities in a growing industry, based on the values you find there.
Being a woman in the field of engineering is challenging. Working in the cannabis industry in Humboldt County adds a whole new level of complexity to the job.
Civil Engineering: A Woman’s Job
I hold a degree in Environmental Resources Engineering, a field of study under the umbrella of civil engineering with a concentration on the management of water and wastewater. I’m especially interested in the interfaces of land and water. I started my career as a staff engineer at a traditional, conservative civil engineering firm. While I was good at my job, I encountered the attitude that I, as a woman, probably didn’t want to get dirty. I was relegated to staying indoors, performing technical writing duties. My body and mind told me that being inside, staring at a screen for 10 hours per day was literally killing me. I often started my day stressed and eventually lost confidence as I searched for something to wear that wasn’t too revealing or too frumpy and still professional. Yet, co-workers still commented on my clothing.
The hours stuck behind a desk, the comments about my appearance, and the sense that I was treated like a second class citizen made me feel like I didn’t want to be an engineer any more.
“While I was good at my job, I encountered the attitude that I, as a woman, probably didn’t want to get dirty.“
I had a lot to contribute, as do many women who get marginalized and pushed out of any industry. I had many great co-workers, most of whom were men, but there is this foundation to every decision, protocol, relation and approach that relegates the feminine to a ridiculed and ignored place. The patriarchy in the civil engineering field is institutionalized.
Forging My Own Way
After working four years at the civil engineering firm, I finally decided to leave. I went out to the hills, and worked on a family cannabis farm.
The Humboldt County farm was where I was given the opportunity to help cultivate and harvest an outdoor crop was so real. From May to November, I tilled, transplanted, fertilized, and tended to the plants. I got my hands dirty. It was great.
No more nine to five shifts, no more computers or keyboards. I got up with the sun and took breaks in the heat of the afternoon to swim in the river.
This immersion in nature, and on a second-generation family-run farm, gave me greater reverence for the super organisms of the earth and how they work together.
Not only did I discover a deeper understanding for the interfaces of the land and water, I found that the farm I was on is a female-oriented environment. There’s a respect across genders, and a recognition for the female divinity in mother nature. This role is revered: women are seen as the nurturers of life. Because of this underlying equality, it’s not strange that women can be excellent farmers and hard workers here.
I realized that being outdoors and one with nature is a regional lifestyle that is missing from our larger society. I also realized that cannabis farmers need help navigating the emerging regulatory landscape.
My passion for engineering was restored by my focus on the areas I could help the farm I had been working on. I decided to turn back to my engineering roots and contribute to the industry’s well-being.
Cannabis permits themselves are the base of my firm’s business, but most of our clients then need road work, a septic system and water storage facilities such as ponds or tanks. I am helping them with their permits and completing the incidental engineering work that goes along with it. I am also getting engineering work from other permit consultants who don’t do the kind of work that I do.
It’s very important to honor and revere the natural environment. When designing a pond, I am very aware that I’ve changed the landscape and earth-water interface. The animals for miles around become aware of what has been done and change their habits because of it.
I do not take this lightly, and I strive to breathe this awareness into all my work. Humans can live in nature without destroying it, but it takes planning, engineering and ongoing mindfulness.
It’s nice be allowed to be myself. If I’m in the office I can be barefoot or wear flip flops, and there is no one to say, “What are you wearing?” Working for myself with local farmers has made all the difference in how I feel about my life and my place in the engineering world.
Cannabis: Opening Doors for Women
The cannabis industry has opened doors for me as an engineer.
Women are driving the industry and becoming powerful members in all facets of the business. In this region, we have a cannabis chamber of commerce completely run by females, businesswomen, writers and farmers who are able to provide for their children and their grandchildren.
There still aren’t many living wage jobs for women without a college education that do not carry great stigma or compromise. The cannabis industry has provided a way for women to be independent. This has been a real gift.
Trimmers have historically been able to make a significant amount of money within a few months, when otherwise they’d struggle working just regular jobs. Especially in an economically depressed region such as ours, it’s rewarding to see women thrive whether it’s as farmers, consultants or as advocates. I’m proud to be one of them.
Kendra Miers co-founded Mother Earth Engineering with Patricia Lai. Miers lives in Arcata, California. For more information on her engineering work, visit her website at motherearthengineering.com