How do we tackle gender inequality with infrastructure?

Woman graphic

Three infrastructure leaders – Mott MacDonald’s Mike Haigh (MH), Peter Oosterveer (PO) of Arcadis, and J.P. Morgan’s Angela Yoong (AY) discuss why women should join the sector, and how we address global inequality. 

Rewarding careers for women
IG: Infrastructure is a growing sector with a big global impact. For young women considering their future prospects, why is the infrastructure sector such a rewarding option? 

MH: “Working in the infrastructure sector can be incredibly rewarding and there’s never a dull day. There are projects and roles to suit everyone’s expertise, skills and passions; women who love getting involved in change management, strategy and planning could find exciting opportunities in areas like city and transport planning, programme and project management. For those more interested in engineering and design, the world of civils and buildings could offer genuine opportunities to transform spaces and places and for those who love crunching numbers, roles as cost consultants are crucial.”

AY: “The infrastructure sector offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on the development and economic growth of a country by facilitating investments into projects that can bring long-term benefits to society at large. From improved transportation, healthcare and educational facilities to the development of renewable energy infrastructure, you’ll have the ability to positively influence decisions around where investments are made.”

PO: “Infrastructure truly is an exciting sector to work in. From helping to transform people’s journeys through the redevelopment of major railway stations, to easing congestion on our road networks and reducing our impact on the environment by creating smart energy infrastructure – the opportunities can be high-profile, diverse and life changing. And as our world continues to expand, the impact of rapid urbanisation means that our global infrastructure requirements will continue to grow. In this respect, supporting and encouraging more women into the profession will have a positive impact on the way we do things.”

Gender inequality and international development

IG: What can be done to ensure the unique challenges faced by women in many parts of the world are fully reflected in the funding, design and delivery of infrastructure – especially in regard to international development?

MH: “Women still face many unique challenges in their day-to-day lives that the funding, design and delivery of infrastructure can positively impact. For example, equal access to employment opportunities for women relies heavily on the inclusive design of cities. Consideration of the location, security and design of health and childcare facilities, transport links and offices can help to increase the chances women have of gaining and sustaining employment. Mott MacDonald’s award winning Gender in Transport toolkit has been created – by 3 of our brilliantly talented women – to consider the specific barriers that women face and ways to overcome these.”

AY: “The goals of infrastructure development should be redefined to account for ‘sustainable’ economic growth that takes environmental and social factors into consideration. Planning and designing projects that benefit a more diverse group; accounting for the rising influence of women as consumers of infrastructure, has economic value. We often think of diversity as a social endeavour but there is also an economic value which can be self-perpetuating.”

MH: “Women and men use infrastructure differently, and therefore efforts to fund, design and deliver infrastructure projects must address these differences to ensure no one is left behind. We need to better understand and reflect local context in all that we do. This means identifying the local needs of women and, where possible, taking an intersectional approach to ensure considerations around disability, age, race, income status and indigenous knowledge systems etc are integrated into infrastructure planning.”

Diversity of insight 
IG: Just how crucial is it that the infrastructure sector has a diverse workforce and insight at all levels and within all disciplines when it operates around the world? 

AY: “If infrastructure is designed to benefit society at large, it makes sense that in its development all members of that society are represented. This includes having diversity of thought – having contrarian views – that can bring a balanced approach to infrastructure development that retains its relevance with shifting demographics and trends, long into the future.”

MH: “Diversity is not only the right thing to do but also creates more creative and innovative teams which can identify better solutions. By creating a diverse workforce, we will have insights and inputs from a broader range of perspectives to ensure infrastructure is suitably designed to meet the needs of all in society, not only those from one demographic.”

PO: “The benefit of a more diverse team is that it brings a new way of looking at things, can provide fresh solutions and help to drive the industry forward to new ways of working. It is our economic duty – both as a responsible business and industry as a whole – to reduce inequality of opportunity and reflect the society in which we all live and work. Ultimately, supporting more women into the industry benefits not only the economy, but also our wider global society.”

MH: “Investment in diversity unlocks opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups to new careers, skills, and training opportunities, strengthens the global talent pipeline and – when deployed in cultures that are inclusive – leads to better decision making. We simply cannot afford to have only a small section of society involved in this work. The question is why wouldn’t we want to promote diversity given the tangible gains?”