This sector profile focuses on gender-based opportunities and gender-smart investing as an investment strategy for the infrastructure sector. It aims to support investors and fund managers to identify existing and future opportunities, with guidance spanning project stages of sustainable infrastructure financing, including construction, maintenance and delivery of infrastructures. In terms of sub-sectors, specific content cover the water and sanitation, power and energy, and transportation sub-sectors. See BII’s full Gender Sector Brief for the evaluation of infrastructure investments, including screening and due diligence questionnaires and quick facts.

While women have historically been under-represented across the infrastructure value chain, we know that gender inclusivity leads to increases in business performance, innovation, company reputation, and profitability. We also know that integrating women’s needs in the management and design of infrastructures leads to increased service usage, resilience, sustainability, consumer satisfaction, and economic opportunities for all. This presents a significant business and impact opportunity.

Adopting gender as an investment strategy can help investors align their impact with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is significant potential for investors to shape gender outcomes in line with SDG 5 on gender equality and SDGs 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 13, linked to infrastructure development and the just transition to net-zero economies.

Guidance on ESG issues and opportunities linked to the infrastructure sector, including gender-based environmental and social risks, is provided in the BII ESG Toolkit for Fund Managers.

Why take a gender lens to infrastructure investments?

  • Business case

    • Enhancing productivity, attractiveness and team performance: Increasing gender diversity and inclusion can help businesses strengthen their productivity, drive innovation, optimise team and worksite performance, retain talent and increase levels of engagement. In the infrastructure sector, the global share of the female workforce is very low: 2% of CEOs are women, and women occupy 9% of senior roles, 13% of mid-level roles, and 22% of junior roles. The same holds for utility companies, with 22% of all utility workers being women. In Africa, women make up 6% of executive directors and 8% of senior management roles. Women comprise less than 1% of the hydropower workforce, still perceived as a “male sector”. Research shows that a diverse workforce signals a positive work environment for talent, boosts productivity, and drives team performance. A recent survey found 61% of women look at the gender diversity of the employer’s leadership team when choosing where to work.
    • Boosting innovation and performance in supply chains: As entrepreneurs and owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), women are key contributors to infrastructure supply chains and can help drive innovation and supply chain performance. By the end of 2020, women-owned companies will represent over 40% of registered businesses worldwide. Increasing women-owned representation in infrastructure supply chains can help anticipate customer needs, drive innovation and competition, and enhance brands and corporate reputations. Supplier diversification is becoming increasingly adopted across the infrastructure sector, driven by public procurement initiatives and policies that promote women’s participation in civil works. Evidence shows companies that prioritise supplier diversity have a 133% greater return on procurement investments and spend 20% on buying operations.
    • Addressing skills and labor shortages: The infrastructure industry is going through rapid change fostered by shifts to green, sustainable and tech-enabled materials, power and technologies. Tapping into the female talent pool and providing women with STEM skills development opportunities can address skills shortages induced by the rapid revolutions the sector is going through. The lack of skilled workers inhibits the ability of contractors to deliver infrastructure projects. However, women are generally not benefitting from training and mentoring, as these are often technically-focused. Women are motivated to work in the sector as worksites become more gender-sensitive, physical jobs become automated, workplace cultures grow increasingly inclusive, and the industry adopts environment-friendly practices.
    • Expanding market share: According to the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Report, women currently represent 19% of the workforce in the energy sector, yet the B2B customer base will be 23%, 26% in B2C and 19% in B2G by the end of 2020. In the Asia Pacific region, women are found in fewer than 20% of transport jobs. 3% of students joining ICT courses across the globe are women. 8% in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses. There is a strong case for gender diversity in the workforce, given the rising number of female customers across infrastructure sectors, and the positive correlation between the gender composition of companies’ customer base and the composition of their workforce across various industries.

  • Impact case

    • Infrastructure investments can directly and indirectly impact women’s economic empowerment: directly through jobs creation within the formal and informal sector; indirectly through either increasing women’s access to the job market or through facilitating women in (household) tasks which lowers the time they spend on unpaid work.
    • Power and energy: As consumers of energy, their safety and security can increase substantially if, for example, streets are better lit and community hygiene facilities have functioning lighting. Furthermore, an increase in energy and electricity access can reduce time spent on collecting alternative ways of energy, such as firewood. Greater access to electricity will also allow women to engage in more productive activities, as shops can be open longer and telecommunications are improved. In South Africa, rural electrification increased female employment 9.5%, likely because it released women from home production and enabled microenterprises. As a result of energy access, women can save one hour per day when they do not need to collect fuelwood, freeing up the equivalent of a workforce of 80 million people. Access to reliable electricity increases the propensity of rural women to work outside the home by approximately 23%. (key statistics in visuals) (to translate this visually with graphics/ icons)
    • Transport: Transportation plays a major role in enabling women’s economic participation. Women’s travel schedules and patterns are distinct from those of men, with a larger number – often shorter – trips, using various modes, at different times of the day, and often involving children. Safety and security concerns also shape women’s mobility and transport behaviour. In Bangladesh, around 94% women commuting via public transport have experienced sexual harassment in verbal, physical or other forms. In Jakarta, nearly 90% of women found the safety of trains to be poor or very poor, whereas only 35% of men held a similar concern for security (Turner, 2013). Planners should adapt transportation projects to women’s needs, adding street lights so women were safer walking at night, and widening sidewalks to make it easier to move around with walkers, strollers or wheelchairs. Having access to safe and efficient transports unlocks economic opportunities and reduces time spent on mobility related to care activities.
    • Water and sanitation: According to UNICEF and the WHO, 2.1 billion people globally still lack access to safe drinking water. In Africa and South Asia, the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls, especially in rural areas. Safe and effective access to water reduces women’s time burden linked to collecting and fetching water as well as caring for relatives getting sick from poor quality water. Women spend 16 million hours collecting water each day across 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The water and sanitation sector is a mainly male-dominated industry. A World Bank study of 64 water and sanitation service providers in 28 countries found that only 18% of water and sanitation workers are women. 32% of the 64 utilities had no female engineers and 12% had no female managers.

Gender-smart investment process

  • 2X Screening
    The investor should answer 2X-aligned screening questions before the deal is submitted for approval. The questions below explore gender-based opportunities and focus on the company’s smart inclusion of women across its workforce and supply chain, and its efforts to serve female customers. Screening questions will help determine: (1) If the deal meets thresholds and/or qualifies under the 2X Challenge; (2) if there are potential gender-based opportunities to be explored further in due diligence.

    See the Gender 2X Screening Questionnaire for this sector.

  • Due diligence
    Gender due diligence is the process of gathering gender-related data and information from the potential investee company for analysis to determine whether gender gaps present opportunities that may impact performance and affect an investee company’s operations and financials. Deal teams can integrate these questions into existing due diligence workstreams (e.g. E&S, impact, commercial). The investor will collect the due diligence information and proceed to confirm 2X qualification; (2) confirm gender-based opportunities to determine whether to take forward compared to other impact investing themes. Selected sector-specific documents can also be requested to guide due diligence further.

    See the Gender Due Diligence Questionnaire for this sector.

    For gender-smart investors, due diligence on gender-based risks and negative impacts is an important aspect of ESG due diligence. Improper screening and poor management of gender-based risks can prevent effective gender-smart investing and have a detrimental impact on a company’s performance in terms of operational costs, reputational damage, stakeholder engagement, employee productivity and loss of confidence.

Emerging trends

  • Intelligence of everything
    Women’s needs should be considered when developing future technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data could help to create more female-friendly infrastructure, identifying widespread usage patterns, barriers to use and opportunities to increase women’s mobility. To harness the potential of AI to create gender-smart infrastructures, businesses can evaluate potential barriers that inhibit women’s access to new infrastructures, as well as integrating AI into existing businesses and projects where possible.
  • Low-carbon economy transition
    The transition to low-carbon economies presents businesses with an opportunity to promote women’s inclusion in traditionally male-dominated sectors, by focusing on ensuring access for low-carbon and inclusive business models and technologies. Gender balance across the sectors will enable businesses to respond to energy transition demands, increase profitability and shift business models.
  • Climate change and natural disasters
    Abnormal and extreme climate and weather events can damage or destroy infrastructure which women, as primary caregivers, rely on for the provision of basic needs (roads, water supply, etc.). Women also tend to have lower levels of access to mobile phones, meaning they are less likely to be able to access help in disaster situations.
  • Migration
    Migration will increase pressure on infrastructure in high-growth emerging markets. For instance, almost all the 1.4 million refugees from South Sudan have fled to neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As primary caregivers (cooks, water collectors, etc.), women often rely more heavily than men on infrastructure for the provision of basic needs (roads, water supply, etc.).

Additional resources

The following resources should help investors and fund managers further develop their gender-smart investing approach in the sector.