Unlocking the Power of Women's Leadership: A Pathway to Sustainable Infrastructure

ASEAN-Australia Women’s Leadership and Gender Mainstreaming in Infrastructure Workshop
ASEAN and Australia Women in Leadership brought together leaders from across the region to discuss and share expertise on policy approaches and the benefits of gender equality in infrastructure.

Globally, around 1 in 5 transport and energy sector employees are women. The number sharply declines in leadership roles, with women holding only 4% of CEO positions in the energy sector, despite it being considered one of the more accessible fields within infrastructure. This is more than an issue of equity in Southeast Asia, Australia, and around the world: it is a missed economic opportunity for countries, companies, communities, and individuals.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia have a shared commitment to promoting gender equality, sustainable infrastructure and enhancing regional connectivity and are working together to lift women’s participation in priority industries for our region. On 20 March 2024, Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I) organised the first ASEAN-Australia Women’s Leadership and Gender Mainstreaming in Infrastructure Workshop, in collaboration with ASEAN’s Lead Implementing Body on Sustainable Infrastructure (LIB-SI), the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Committee on Women.

Over 90 people, 80% of which were women, from Australia, ASEAN, ASEAN Member States, Timor-Leste, and the private sector came together in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss the role of women’s leadership and gender mainstreaming in driving ASEAN’s sustainable infrastructure and connectivity objectives. During her welcoming remarks, Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN, Tiffany McDonald highlighted Australia’s long-standing commitment to gender equality and ASEAN’s connectivity agenda “Women working in the infrastructure sector face challenges in accessing leadership, employment, and economic opportunities. We must be intentional about advancing women’s leadership and integrating gender equality within infrastructure projects.”

These sentiments were echoed by speakers from both public and private sector throughout the day. “As Southeast Asian governments look to invest in infrastructure to stimulate their economies and foster trade, infrastructure development must be carried out in a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive manner”, Attorney Rowena Candice M. Ruiz, Executive Director of the Philippines’ Government Procurement Policy Board (Technical Support Office) said.

The workshop included important discussions on policy approaches and the benefits of gender equality in infrastructure. Women leaders offered first-hand insights into their experiences, the challenges they faced, and their achievements. Participants and panel speakers shared practical tools and case studies that underscore the importance of fostering women's participation and leadership in the development of inclusive, sustainable, quality infrastructure. The discussions also highlighted the eagerness of women to contribute and lead within the infrastructure sector, including in technical roles. Many women, however, do not feel valued in sectors heavily dominated by men, such as construction, and can be discouraged by long working hours, risks to personal safety, and a lack of women-friendly facilities. Additionally, women frequently encounter biases and stereotypes suggesting that technical jobs and fieldwork are inappropriate for them. These hurdles are particularly pronounced for women who come from ethnic and language minorities and face other disadvantages.  

Gender inequality in the infrastructure sector is costly. Speakers noted that the industry must evolve, both to meet current and future demand and to be one in which women and men’s contributions are maximised.

In Australia, only 12% of constructions workers are women, falling to 2% on construction sites. Limited participation of women worsens critical skills shortages, misses out on the contributions and perspectives that women bring, and hinders good decision-making. “We need to redefine what value for money looks like", said Jim Betts Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, Australia. “It is not just about the cheapest and quickest delivery of a project. It is about leaving an enduring social legacy as well”.  

During the workshop, gender-responsive procurement emerged as a key tool for addressing inequality in infrastructure development. Speakers from Australia and the Philippines stressed that quality-based criteria must be embedded in the selection process to go beyond traditional cost-based models. This requires rethinking the engagement with the private sector to include robust accountability measures to drive progress. Initiatives such as requesting companies to report on gender diversity and inclusion, establishing standards and diversity targets for fair representation and equal pay for the work of equal value, are notable examples.

These measures form part of a standard which has been developed in partnership between the government and the private sector, as a definition of what we think we need to move towards, in order to make the industry attractive, including for the girls and young women that we want to promote the sector to as a career”, Secretary Betts said.

Speakers and participants also emphasised the need for gender-disaggregated data to effectively plan and monitor initiatives aimed at achieving gender equality in infrastructure development. They also stressed the need for targeted interventions, such as incentives for young women to study STEM, capacity building to enhance technical skills for women, and creation of dedicated professional networks to challenge the social norms about women getting into non-traditional sectors.  

The event highlighted the importance of continued dialogue and collaboration among Australia and ASEAN stakeholders in driving meaningful change and addressing gender disparities in the industry. Specifically, participants expressed a strong interest in future workshops and capacity-building initiatives focused on leadership development, mentorship programs, networking platforms, and advocacy for gender-inclusive policies in the infrastructure sector.

On behalf of LIB-SI Chair, Deputy Director General of Planning and Finance of Lao PDR’s Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Chanthasack Bottaphanith underscored the need to continue efforts to address gender inequality and provide equal opportunities for women in the infrastructure sector.

We need to look at this from an economic and business as well as social perspectives, and integrate gender equality into policies, programmes, and projects at every level.  Infrastructure, together with supporting regulatory and management actions, is vital to growing economic prosperity.  The challenges are increasingly complex as we seek sustainable, climate resilient and multi-modal solutions with the consequential need for greater collaboration across sectors, geographies, and with a wide range of stakeholders”, he added.

Sustainable and inclusive infrastructure is essential in achieving a connected and integrated ASEAN region and stands at the core of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and the Framework for Improving ASEAN Infrastructure Productivity. This agenda of connectivity, resilience, and sustainable infrastructure is a priority for both the 2024 Lao PDR ASEAN Chair year and the ASEAN Connectivity post-2025 agenda.

Key Speakers at the event:

  • Secretary Jim Betts from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, Australia
  • H.E. Tiffany McDonald, Ambassador of Australia to ASEAN
  • Mrs Kate O’Sullivan, Deputy Secretary (Infrastructure Division), Victoria Department of Treasury and Finance, Australia  
  • Mr Chanthasack Bottaphanith, Deputy Director General of Planning and Finance, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Lao PDR (on behalf of LIB-SI Chair, H.E. Vanh Dilaphanh)
  • Ms Nor Aishah binti Sulaiman, Principal Assistant Secretary, Finance Division, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, Malaysia (on behalf of ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) Chair, H.E. Datuk Dr. Maziah binti Che Yusoff)
  • Mrs Tri Dewi Virgiyanti, A/g. Deputy Minister for Regional Development, Director for Transport, Ministry of Development Planning, BAPPENAS, Indonesia
  • Ms An Nguyen, CEO, North East Link State Tolling Corporation (STC), Victoria, Australia
  • Attorney Rowena Candice Ruiz, Executive Director, Government Procurement Policy Board (Technical Support Office)  
  • Dr Kanchana Wanichkorn, Director of Sectoral Development, ASEAN Economic Community, ASEAN Secretariat  
  • Mrs Sorn Sopheavatey, Deputy Director General, Department of Logistics, Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT), Cambodia (on behalf of Secretary of State, MPWT, H.E. Koy Sodany)
  • Mrs Saykham Thammanosouth, Deputy Director General of Public Works and Transport Institute, Lao PDR
  • Associate Professor Iderlina Mateo-Babiano, Assistant Dean (Diversity and Inclusion) and Associate Professor in Urban Planning, Faculty of Architecture, Building & Planning, The University of Melbourne, Australia  
  • Puan Nurul Suhana, Assistant Director, Marine Department, Ministry of Transport, Malaysia
  • Dr Lykuong Eng, Chair, ASEAN Women Entrepreneurship Network, Cambodia
  • Ms Karen Atkinson, Global Executive Director, Dams & Hydropower, SMEC
  • Ms Maria Aurora Geotina-Garcia, Founding Chairperson, President, Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN), The Philippines  
  • Mr Diyanto Imam, Director, New Energy Nexus, Indonesia  
  • Ms Jane Jamieson, Program Manager, Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), The World Bank Group
  • Mr Chze Cheen Lim, Director, ASEAN Connectivity Division, Office of the Secretary-General, ASEAN Secretariat  
  • Ms Caroline Scott, Deputy Head of Mission, Australian Mission to ASEAN
Engage with us

If you are interested in partnering with us, please get in touch. Using P4I's flexible, innovative tools and diverse global expertise, we are confident we can design a response that is tailored to your needs.

See how it works