While the leadership ranks are filled mostly with masculine faces, the number of women in positions of power is growing. The challenges these women face sometimes tie into their gender, but most of their obstacles are shared by everyone in the profession—male or female. Six top public infrastructure managers share advice on what it takes to climb the ladder.


Qiong Liu, PE, PTOE
Deputy director/city engineer
North Las Vegas, Nev.
Population: 178,166
Area: 78.5 square miles

Liu might stand a few inches shorter than most of her colleagues, but with her impressive educational background and history of public service, she stands shoulder to shoulder with the best in the profession.

Liu has served North Las Vegas—one of the fastest-growing cities in the country—for two years, including a six-month stint as interim director. Her passion for finding what makes things tick is rooted in her childhood; she was born in Beijing to two well-educated parents who enthusiastically supported her curious, energetic nature.

“I was a tomboy,” she says. “I enjoyed creating and making things and overcoming challenges, which explains why I wanted to be an astronaut or an inventor, to make a big difference in people's lives.”

At 17, she entered the Institute of Railway Sciences in Changsha, China, graduated with a civil engineering degree, and eventually moved to the United States to continue her education. In 2004, she earned a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Arizona.

Liu has been in the United States for 17 years. She knows her city well, but she still struggles somewhat with American culture and language—a challenge she finds more daunting than gender differences.

“At the beginning, it is harder simply because it's a male-predominated field,” Liu says. “But in the long term, it's different once you have gained respect from the people you work with, and because of the dynamics of the business and the people you interact with every day, and the diversity of the workforce.”