Michelle Beason, regional manager for National Plant Services in Hayward, is responsible for her company’s sewer and storm water services throughout northern California, Oregon, and Washington.
After a student internship with EPA in her home state of Michigan piqued her interest in environmental work, she earned a Civil Engineering degree from Purdue University, and worked as an engineering consultant, and an asset manager for East Bay MUD. She also opened her own construction company, building homes and installing underground utilities.
Her experience comes through in the dozens of presentations she gives each year, and they in turn demonstrate her advice for both men and women in the water management field: “If you have the confidence to get out there and the drive to make it happen, you can be successful in this industry.”
Has she seen a change in the role of women and attitudes toward them in her 24 years in the clean water profession? Yes and no.
“In my high school, both girls and boys were pushed to enter advanced science and math classes if our abilities allowed,” she remembers.
“But at Purdue, all of my civil engineering courses only had a handful of women in them, and over 50 men. The ratios of women to men have increased, and there are numerous women leading our industry, but the majority are still men, and there still are perceptions that it is a man’s field.”
She recalls being complimented for giving a great presentation “for a woman,” and learning that some men were making 20 percent more than she was in the same position.
But that has not held her back. She credits her quick wit and strong personality for her success. “I have frequently been told that I don’t look like an engineer, or contractor, or builder. But there is power in that, and it is very satisfying to accomplish things that others think you can’t do.
“I have been fortunate in my career,” she adds, “but mostly because I worked hard, am a positive person, and I have always been a relationship builder, which is key to advancing in this industry.
“None of us can do this on our own, so we need to build that network of resources and support along the way.”