Women in Engineering

Jean Armstrong was one of the very few  women of her generation to become an engineer. As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh she was often the only woman in classes of over one hundred. When she came to Australia she was the only woman holding a position as lecturer or above in any engineering department in any Australian university *.  For many engineers and students she was the first woman engineer they met and she tried to ensure that she always represented a positive role model.

Later in her career when family responsibilities meant that her career path diverged from that of most engineers she encountered many structural barriers. For example, while combining doctoral studies with motherhood, she had to relinquish the Australian Postgraduate Scholarship that she held, because there were at that time no part-time or maternity leave provisions (paid or unpaid). She was offered one period of unpaid leave, rather quaintly under "the circumstances beyond the student’s control" provision but eventually had to relinquish the scholarship. Since then she has worked to reduce these barriers and has published a number of papers documenting the issues. In 1994 she was instrumental in establishing the Australasian Women in Engineering Forum which has held annually for many years and provided an opportunity for women to meet and share their experiences and strategies. 

As an academic she has been fortunate to supervise a number of outstanding women postgraduate students including Sarangi Dissanayake, Xia Li and Iris Yan (co-supervisor).  All three during their doctoral studies have won various honours and prizes and have published papers in leading journals.

She often acts as a mentor for other women and is often invited to give talks on topics like strategies for promotion.

Her work on encouraging women engineers has been recognised by two major awards: an Engineering 2000 award presented by the Institute of Engineers, Australia and induction into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

* A number of women, many outstanding, gave lectures but were employed in Tutor positions, which did not allow promotion to Lecturer grades.