Sign in

Celebrating the Wonderful Women in Infrastructure

Celebrating the Wonderful Women in Infrastructure

To celebrate International Women’s Day we wanted to share the successes of some of the industry’s most admired leaders. The Infrastructure Sustainability industry is filled with talented women, and ISCA pride ourselves in equal opportunities. Last year we ensured that 50% of speakers at our events were female, more than half of our operational team are female, and we have five female board members.

We caught up with the IS Individual Leadership finalists Reanna Harper and Liz Root, as well as the winner of the award Nicole Neal (pictured above). We also spoke to some of ISCA’s female board members, Sarah Marshall, Leisel Moorhead, Monique Cornish and Dorte Ekelund about their careers as female leaders in the infrastructure industry as well as advice for women starting out. 


 Sarah Marshall - Executive General Manager – Operational Support, Engineering, Lendlease - ISCA Board Director

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

I entered the construction industry as a 20-something year old woman and it was a tough industry to be in, I was often the only female on site.

Since then I’ve worked all over Australia on different projects in sustainability, community and stakeholder engagement and environmental roles, progressing to my current role, as Executive General Manager in Lendlease. This role brings the key support functions together and allows me to do what I enjoy the most – looking after our people and our projects. The amazing people that make up our organisation motivate me.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

It’s an exciting industry to be in, with countless career opportunities for those who seek them and are willing to travel. It’s important you embrace every opportunity, especially when you’re younger. Getting exposure to different people and projects will help you build relationships, diversify your experiences and increase your resilience, which will help your career in the longer term.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

There is a much greater awareness and appreciation among contractors and our clients of the positive social outcomes that can be delivered above and beyond on major infrastructure projects. As an example, we are working hard with community organisations to give employment and training opportunities to people who have typically not been well represented in our industry, i.e. women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, youth and refugees. The benefits here are twofold – the industry gets the benefit of new skilled workers and these people get to enter our fantastic industry and hopefully go on to have long, fruitful careers.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

The industry has come a long way, we’re seeing an increasing number of young women undertake STEM related degrees as women, which is fantastic, but we need to keep pressing for progress especially when it comes to having more women in trades and blue collar roles. We have recently employed our first all- female dump truck operator crew on one of our Pacific Highway projects and that was led by one of our superintendents, I’d like to see more of this progress.


 Dorte Ekelund - Principal Advisor, Smart Cities - ISCA Board Director

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

I have had many career  highlights – I think heading up the Major Cities Unit for the Federal Government was pretty awesome and despite only having a very small team, we achieved terrific things like the National Urban Policy, annual State of Australian Cities Reports and the National Urban Design Protocol. In my previous job as Director General of Environment and Planning in the ACT, I was very proud of having the opportunity to sign off on all the contracts which will deliver 100% renewable electricity to Canberra, and having had a hand in planning for light rail in the Territory – stage one of which starts operating later this year.  What motivates me is making a difference – and hopefully helping humankind to become a better custodian of this planet.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

My advice to a young woman starting in infrastructure would be to be creative and outward thinking – don’t just respond to a narrow brief – think about how infrastructure can deliver multiple benefits – such as improving the lives of users, be that convenience and time saving, health and economic opportunities;  minimising harmful impacts and introducing benefits for the environment; bringing people together in strong, resilient communities. Expect to get frustrated from time to time but remember we are all different and process information differently – be patient and be respectful – be pleasant and be happy – people can see a smile on the inside as well as outside.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

I started in local government as a trainee town planner when I was 18. The Town Clerk wasn’t keen on giving me a job as I was female, he saw it as a Man’s industry and I was bound to get pregnant any minute. Luckily the Mayor recognised me after giving me my dux award a couple of weeks previously, and overruled the Town Clerk. Men and women had segregated lunch rooms at this Council and women had to wear uniforms. You were asked how much material you wanted to buy for your uniforms so you could make them up or arrange for someone to sew them. I was a handy seamstress and made trousers as well as skirts. Years later I was told I started a revolution because the Town Clerk didn’t like women to wear trousers!!! But no one told me to stop wearing them so the other women started wearing trousers as well!!

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

From the last question, you can see that some progress has been made, but I fear there is still a lot of unconscious bias towards women in infrastructure – and sadly some of it comes from women as well as men. For me progress also means planning, designing and using places and infrastructure in ways which reduce harm to people and the environment. I’m a huge believer in the need to ramp up our climate change action – decarbonising our transport and energy is critical, as is using the built environment to make us more resilient to the changes that are already in play.

Do you have any other quotes or comments?

To be able to deliver a better future, we need more diversity and creative minds – so it is a no-brainer to enlist the talents of women as well as men.


 Reanna Harper - Director, Studio Consult - IS Individual Leadership Award Finalist

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

Proud of two things - the diversity in my career and having a reputation with Clients which has been true to my own ethics and morals. The greatest triumph is ongoing: it is continually surprising and challenging myself. If I had to pick a moment, to date the greatest triumph has been learning to say ‘No’ and, at one of the busiest, most demanding and excelling points in my career, stating the impossible by saying ‘I need a break’. Investing in finding clarity in vision, and balance was partly daunting but incredibly life changing. In terms of motivation, I’m not sure if it fits the definition but genuine intrigue, a thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm for learning new things continues to always pulls me into new directions – keeping it exciting, interesting and thought provoking (sometimes a little tiring too).

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

Be brave, expose yourself to lots of different experiences and people, challenge yourself, spend time on site, contribute, treat everyone equally, ask, listen, find opportunities, learn to network (across industry, not just women) and find a mentor early. Do this even (or especially!) if you think you know exactly what you want to do long term – where you end up might surprise you and be somewhere you may have never imagined.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

There are a few major changes.The pace is much faster and there is continuum of evolving priority issues, pressures or responses needed from the day a possible new infrastructure asset is announcement to the day it is decommissioned. The way infrastructure is engineered and delivered is different. There are obvious changes associated with digital, social media and technology, but also the need to respond to demands for future proofing, roles of infrastructure in city shaping and intergenerational livability. This comes with challenges and opportunities. Community, stakeholders and societal impacts are more front and center, but can equally be reactive to short term pressures, misconceptions or ‘loudest criers’. There are definitely more disciplines within infrastructure project delivery teams (Sustainability, Heritage, Ecology, Stakeholder Engagement, Urban Designer, Owner, Financier, Operator, and more. Not just engineers) which has created much larger, diverse teams and far greater complexity in decision making. The way industry engages internally and externally has changed dramatically – I would say it is almost unrecognisable compared to what it was when I first started.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

To me, this meansgreater action to equality (not just gender equality). It means acknowledging historical and subconscious societal ‘birth privilege’ (whether it be race, location, gender, class, wealth, etc) and standing up, taking steps, being accountable for own choices, being honest about own bias, being an active voice in change, being brave. Global movements such as #PressforProgress need to be fueled by individual, organisational, industry and national actions, leadership and education. My first thoughts are what can I do to Press for Progress (and influence my Clients). I am not sure I necessarily agree with the phrase, but to me, the ‘pressing’ means challenging your own ideas, being committed to a change, mentoring, early school education and engagement (in the country not just the city, to the disadvantages, not just the privileged) and adopting ‘simple, practical and adaptable actions’ of exemplar institutes focused on the ‘do’ rather than just ‘discuss’ such as Male Champions of Change.

Do you have any other quotes or comments?

Something that always takes stock of things for me is “If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it” – a simple thought which if the answer to pondering ‘Can I change it?’ is yes, then direct efforts and choices accordingly. If the answer is no, why waste time worrying, complaining or stressing about. A favorite quote I came across in the past few years and resonated is ‘Jump and the net will appear’.


 Monique Cornish, Principal Advisor, Tonkin + Taylor - ISCA Board Director

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

I’ve always been motivated by ‘making a difference’. I now know that to be working with government institutions and private organisations to design positive environmental, social and cultural outcomes into their activities.  Because infrastructure is so long-lived, and impacts so many aspects of society and the environment, it’s one of the most important sectors to focus on from an outcomes perspective.

I’m proud to be representing members on the ISCA Board, and to have the opportunity to help shape the future of Australasia’s premier sustainable infrastructure body. Today the ISCA Board is 40% female, which is a credit to ISCA and our membership, and should be held as exemplar for governance bodies.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

Align yourself with people and projects who share your values. When our values align with the organisations we’re part of, even mundane tasks start to be fun and meaningful. As a collective we’re much more likely to create the change we seek.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

There is increased understanding that the different perspectives a diverse workforce brings will help solve the wicked problems we must address if our business and societies are going to survive, let alone thrive. This extends to the diversity brought by age, ethnicity and experience, as well as gender.  We still have a way to go to move from diversity to equity, but recognising the value that diversity brings is a start.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

Inequity and inequality are not acceptable on any level, yet we know that in many jurisdictions the number of women in leadership positions is static or declining, and there is still a significant gender pay gap.  I was lucky at the start of my career (thanks to enlightened leaders, those who smashed through various glass ceilings before me, and probably general youthful optimism) to not feel like gender mattered (mine or anyone else’s).

Now, at I guess what they call mid-career, I feel gender issues surprisingly keenly. Inequality feeds self-doubt (as well as the more obvious financially-driven negative outcomes)...so if today you’re in a position to take a stance on equity and equality in your business, please consider doing so…if you sit alongside someone who may well personally feel the effects of gender, or any other form of inequality in the workplace, let them know that you value the skills and point of view they bring to your business.


 Leisel Moorhead - Parner, QIC - ISCA Board Director

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

I could list the many transactions and projects that I have worked on but one of the things that I am most proud of having a senior leadership role where I can support and mentor younger women in progressing their careers.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

My advice would be that they should be courageous, step up and own their place at the table – be willing to speak up, often amongst a bevy of loud male voices. At the same time do this in a way that is authentic for you – the power is in diversity.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

One of the positive things that I have seen change, is the evolution in practical implication of diversity and inclusion strategies and the support for flexible working arrangements. These are key enablers for allowing women (and men) to remain in the workforce and to keep progressing their careers whilst juggling other life commitments. Actively supporting flexible working models for both genders is key to supporting women's progression into leadership roles. In order to advance gender equality in the workplace, flexible work arrangements must be available to and actively supported for both genders. We have a long way to go but it is a step in the right direction.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

I am very grateful to the women who have gone before me who pressed for progress in their own way in their own time.  They have provided the springboard for me. Every day – we each should be courageous in small ways to make a real difference to our own lives and the lives of the women around you. Each of us is a role model – to each other, to our colleagues, to our daughters or our nieces. We can all make a difference in our own way.


 Nicole Neal - Cardno, APAC Environment & Sustainability Director - IS Individual Leadership Award Winner 

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

That’s a big question, so many things that can read as a triumph in my opinion! Moving to Australia on my own in 2006 knowing not a soul, helping to start Arup’s Sustainability team in Melbourne, working on my own as a freelance gun for hire for a period, working sustainability into the common parlance and organizational strategy of a major construction firm, achieving Signatory status to the UN Global Compact with said construction firm, taking on a Director role in Cardno at the end of last year. Pretty pleased with all of those things! Of course, being honoured as the recipient of the ISCA Individual Leadership Award last year was very, very special indeed, and it was the cherry on the cake in terms of a lot of hard work and persistence put in over not just the last year, but for a number of years.

I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve managed to stick to my guns with regards to sustainability and helping others across the construction and infrastructure delivery industries understand what sustainability is as a first off and then to understand what it means for their business or their particular project. It has taken a lot of perseverance and personal resilience, coming through a number of years of listening to naysayers and hyper-skeptics – but I took that as a real gift, those are the kind of people where you really sharpen your listening and other communication skills and ability to do your job very well as a sustainability professional.

What motivates me is taking on the next challenge. I seem to be a real glutton for punishment and have a perverse attraction to the tough stuff. I love it!

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

Do it! Get stuck in and get involved. This is such an exciting time to be working in infrastructure. I love this industry, in terms of its pace, developments in techniques, technologies and approaches, the ability to contribute to something significant to society and the communities we live in and the solid friendships that are forged.

Take time to build relationships and build your network. And I don’t mean go out pressing the flesh and collecting business cards. I mean talk to your colleagues, peers, clients and professional acquaintances like the human beings that they are. Trust is a very important thing, and the foundation of trust is built in knowing who you’re working with. We all move around in different parts of the industry these days, so one day you may be working side by side as colleagues, but in the future someone may be a client or contractor or supplier. So that’s important from a business development and connectivity point of view, but more importantly than that these people (and I stress people – male and female) become important people in your life, as friends, touchstones, mentors and guides.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

A whole lot has changed since I started my career in the UK in around about 2002. For a start-out there weren’t really such roles as “Sustainability Managers” nor sustainability professionals really, and especially not in the infrastructure space. It was really in its infancy at that time in the UK. Then when I moved to Australia in 2006 I thought I’d gone back in time sustainability-wise! In last five years the understanding and perception of sustainability in infrastructure has really begun to move in a very positive direction however – there’s much greater understanding, a much greater awareness for the need for consideration of sustainability in all its facets in the development, delivery and operation of infrastructure.

With respect to females in the infrastructure industry and how things have changed I’d say on the positive side that I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with relatively enlightened individuals and teams and I’ve only had, by and large, encouraging and constructive experiences as a female in a largely male-dominated industry. But on the not so positive side, it still is that – male-dominated. Not that I’ve got anything against men, believe me far from it! And I’d say it’s not the fault, or rather not the entire fault of industry, but rather how and what we’re teaching young people in schools, homes and communities about the possibilities for their career paths and other pursuits. There’s no real reason why infrastructure design, development, delivery and operation should be gendered in any particular direction – we all use this infrastructure in our daily lives.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

I don’t necessarily like to make a “thing” of being a woman in infrastructure really, and never have done. It’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, and to press for progress should mean that we get to the point where everyone sees it as an irrelevance as to what gender someone identifies as in a professional sphere. I don’t see that the roll of nature’s dice re the chromosomes and soggy bag of hormones I was fortunate to receive make the blind bit of difference as to how I or other females perform in the world of infrastructure! So I’ve never really been one for separating out that fact. Having said that though I’ve always been one to challenge stereotypes in my humorous fashion, showing up ridiculously antediluvian sentiments for what they are with respect to what women should or should not be doing.

In pressing for progress I’m also always up for challenging unconscious (and of course conscious) bias too, as I feel this one on a regular basis personally. Alongside the particular chromosomal mix I’ve been gifted in life, I’ve apparently (or so I’ve been told) been blessed with genes that make me appear younger than my actual age. The triple whammy of female, young-looking, and ready for a challenge! Many have been the times where I’ve challenged unconscious bias with respect to being a person of the female gender who happens to look relatively young, and I find this in life generally and not only in my work life. Oh how I love those conversations and challenging assumptions being made based on one’s appearance!! (See point above re enjoying the challenge!)

On a more serious note, pressing for progress for me means being able to be a point of reference for women looking to move into or develop their careers in infrastructure-related disciplines, particularly as one of the most senior females in Cardno, continuing to challenge and call out those unconscious biases and stereotypes, and being in a position fortunate enough able to support and mentor both males and females alike in that space. On a more personal note pressing for progress also means being a role model for my four nieces as they grow up and helping them to see and understand what they’re capable of.

Do you have any other quotes or comments?

Listen a lot, and listen to the naysayers in particular. They’re teaching you something. It’s just in a perverse, slightly prickly, and uncomfortable lesson of sorts. Trust me though, it’s more helpful that you realise at the time.

But in balance with that listening never, ever be afraid to ask a question or pipe up. And in the words of my mother, don’t follow anyone else’s steps – you do what you think is right.


 Liz Root, Principal Sustainability Advisor, City Rail Link - IS Individual leadership Award Finalist

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

Changing the mindsets of those around me so that people see sustainability as an investment rather than a cost and that sustainability is about communities and people as much as it is about recycling, waste avoidance and carbon footprints. I am motivated by making a difference that is of benefit to people who may never know about what I do.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

You don’t need to know at the start what you are going to end up doing. However, it is a good idea to understand what you are interested in so you can see what paths you can take. Learn how to be confident in what you know and the way you present yourself and realise it’s okay to ask questions or seek help for what you don’t know.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

The conversation is starting to move from why sustainability to how can we do it.

I now have to queue for the loo as more women enter the industry.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

It’s about diversity - not just male, pale and stale and the need to appreciate the value that diversity adds to robust thinking.

Do you have any other quotes or comments?

I’m excited by the growing number of invitations, big and small, that I receive to present in NZ and overseas because they represent an awakening of interest in sustainability and a desire to learn.  I’m lucky that CRL’s leadership has allowed me to lead in my field and supported me on this journey.

GO BACK