How are women in infrastructure breaking gender barriers? Why should you choose a career in infrastructure? Can working in infrastructure create a more sustainable future?
These are just a few of the questions answered in our three-part Q&A series that we’ve created to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022. We interviewed three female leaders at the GI Hub to discuss their thoughts on how we can collectively #BreakTheBias and address inequality in the infrastructure sector. They also share their experiences, insights, and challenges – from personal to industry – on their career in infrastructure.
The first Q&A in this three-part series is with Maud de Vautibault, GI Hub’s Director of Practical Tools and Knowledge. Maud is a senior infrastructure policy and legal advisor with over 20 years’ experience in France and Australia. During her career, she’s worked in the public and private sectors on governmental frameworks and the procurement, execution, and implementation of quality infrastructure projects. Maud holds a Masters Degree in Public Economic Law from University of Paris-Pantheon-Assas.
Q: This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, what does this theme mean to you in your work life?
For me, breaking the bias is not just about gender equality but about breaking all bias that deters people who are different from contributing. In my work life and for me personally, it is about having equal access and an equal level of diversity to limit prejudice.
I always stress the importance of having a wide cross-section of representation at our events and in the creation of our content, tools, and resources. We want variety, diversity, and different perspectives. We want input from different countries – emerging and developed, so we can learn from each other and influence others to do the same.
The GI Hub is unique in that 50% of our board members are women and 75% of our executives are women, but I do recognise that this is not the norm.
Q: Having worked in both Australia and France, do you think women face gender bias differently in each country?
I started my career in France twenty years ago in a major construction company. At the time, only 8% of women held senior positions. It was very male-dominated, and it was a tough environment - I really had to work hard to prove my worth and adopt the ‘male codes’ to progress and succeed in that environment. Over my fifteen years at the company, I only saw two women that were promoted to director positions, so it was quite a challenging environment for women at that time. However, things have changed with the adoption of more inclusive gender policies.
Since then, France has enacted legislations and parliament introduced quotas requiring companies to have a certain amount of female representation on boards and in management and leadership positions. It is evident that improvements are being made to entice more women, but there are still areas for improvement. For example, the construction sector is still a very male-dominated sector in France and in Australia. Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Market Capacity report highlights women make up less than 12.7% of the workforce in construction occupation and less than 2% of related trade jobs. The report also states that females are likely to be paid less and are less likely to be in senior positions. I think it does vary from sector to sector, but there are still gender equality issues that need to be addressed. On the positive side, in Australia the NSW Government has developed some great programs in collaboration with universities to encourage more women into STEM degrees. Despite there still being gender inequality, we can also observe some positive progress being made.
Q: On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers?
Grab opportunities when they come your way and look to someone who can mentor you that you can learn from – be open-minded, curious, and stay passionate about your work.
For example, an unexpected opportunity came my way, which enabled me to go and work for the French Treasury in the infrastructure financing unit, allowing me to step out of my comfort zone and pursue new opportunities. This career change allowed me to learn more about intergovernmental decision-making and stakeholder management on some major infrastructure projects, under the leadership of an incredibly supportive manager. This experience provided me with four years of exciting negotiations and interesting projects.
Q: What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in the infrastructure sector?
Working in infrastructure is one of the more interesting fields. It is so diverse, you often have to work in ‘project mode’ allowing you to touch on and understand the multidisciplinary aspect of the sector such as design, planning, policy, project management, engineering, finance, and legal. The sector and people you work with have a richness, complexity, and variety that is difficult to find in other industries. It can be challenging at times, but if you are driven and persevere, you will succeed. I also find the sector to be incredibly rewarding, being able to see the tangible results of your work through the positive social outcomes that make a difference in the lives of everyday people. You are participating in something that hopefully contributes to the creation of a more sustainable future.
Q: What has been your biggest achievement?
The first thing that comes to mind is the closing of two major deals: the Balard PPP Project (the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence in Paris) and the refinancing of the high-speed railway line Paris-Bordeaux, this involved managing the State Guarantee release. I also worked on a negotiation with the Conseild’Etat for the amendment of the procurement legislation to secure the debt service interest and expenses in case of a third party challenging the PPP contract. What I like about the Balard project was being able to manage the contractual issues for the consortium from early procurement to the completion of the construction.
I also think working abroad has been a fantastic experience and allowed me to see what others are doing in the infrastructure space and learn more about infrastructure delivery and how different countries approach things. In addition, I have worked alongside my talented colleagues at the GI Hub on knowledge sharing resources like Improving Delivery Models, Innovative Funding and Financing and Connectivity Across Borders.