Twenty-five years after founding Hill Environmental, owner Michele Hill is celebrating a long and fulfilling career as an environmental scientist and business owner.
“I am proud of the fact that I’ve run a company for 25 years, and that I started out at a time where the field was male-dominated,” says Hill.
In the early days, when she answered the phone and turned up on job sites, other workers “would see me get out of the truck and say, ‘Oh, who do you work for?’ It’s still a misnomer that female professionals are only lawyers or accountants, not registered professional scientists and business owners.”
Hill always knew she wanted a career in the sciences.
“I had a passion for the outdoors and how everything is connected. The science itself really intrigued me. I still get comments to this day from people saying I’m very passionate about my work.”
Hill also knew, early on, in college, that it wouldn’t be easy. She began her fish and wildlife studies in Ontario at Guelph University in 1986 and graduated from Sir Sandford Fleming College of Applied Arts and Technology, in 1991. Of the 66 students who began the program together, six were female. Hill was the only female to graduate.
“Back then, you had to do one-and-a-half times the work. You had to carry your own gear, and you had to endure a lot of crap, but I got a thick skin and I got really good at the one-liners.”
When family life brought her to the Okanagan in 1993, she quickly realized she would have to form a business to secure contract work.
“I went to Community Futures (North Okanagan) and said, ‘I need to be a business.’”
After going through the self-employment program in 1994, Hill Environmental was formed. It was the beginning of an important relationship as a business owner. Hill went on to join Community Futures’ first Business Exchange program to help entrepreneurs with professional development, and 19 years later she is still a member as well as chair of the CFNO board of directors and member of its various committees.
Navigating how to run a business was as much of a challenge as being a woman in a field dominated by males.
“There were so many challenges: marketing, financials, managing the day-to-day and human resources with employees,” says Hill, who, at one point employed 10 staff and became a single parent of three. “I took courses. I read books. You work so much harder than you ever would at a 9-to-5 job.”
But it wasn’t always uphill. Through her work providing environmental, wildlife and riparian assessments, as well as dock and marina services, Hill has had the chance to explore, uncover and conserve the natural wonder of the Okanagan and B.C.
“You can make a difference to ecosystems and be that link between nature and sustainability. When the fires came through Okanagan Mountain (in 2003), I was there within a week and saw the black vegetation, the boulders split apart with heat, the absence of animals and sounds. I conducted assessments over the next five years and saw the dormant seedbeds coming back up, the mule deer coming back. The response was incredible.”