to more traditional roles, such as homemakers and mothers,
Duncan pursued a career in the male-dominated field of
“My father was a mechanical engineer and, being an only
child, he frequently involved me in helping him mend his
(rather old) car. When I was about 10 or 11 [years old],
he took me to a machine tools exhibition, where I saw
some early CNC [Computer Numeric Control] machines
working, and was fascinated by them. Later on, I began to
particularly enjoy Physics at school, and a turning point was
when we had to make a very basic electric motor and mine
was the only one in the whole class that worked! I enjoyed
that feeling, and started to think perhaps I had an aptitude
for electrical science,” said Duncan.
Growing up, Duncan attended a highly-academic all-girls school, which could be another reason why Duncan
felt confident enough to pursue a career in such a male-dominated industry. Research shows that there are
“positive effects of single-sex schooling” in relation to
numeracy and literacy testing and tertiary entrance scores.
In addition, research shows that girls benefit from single-sex environments where there are no expectations that
they should fulfil traditional gender stereotypes in the
subjects they study, the activities they participate in or the
careers they pursue. Girls attending girls’ schools are more
confident and assertive in single-sex environments.
“The school’s ethos was to instil confidence into its pupils
that they could achieve anything they wanted to. Although,
they did try unsuccessfully to persuade me to take a
Physics degree rather than engineering. I believe I was the
first girl from that school to study engineering, but there
have been many more since me,” said Duncan.
Active In The Field
After receiving her degree from Leeds, Duncan joined
Plessey Microwave as a development engineer working
on Gunn oscillator design, millimeter-wave IMPATT
oscillators, and on GaAs FET characterization.
“There were no other female engineers when I started
work there, but it was a small, friendly pilot production
unit, and there were several women working in the same
lab area as technicians and assembly operators, so overall
the ratio was about 50/50. After about four years, the
company was expanding quite quickly, and we had a large
intake of new graduates that included three more female
engineers, one of whom came to work for me in the team
I was then managing. At that time, I’d say that the ratio
of women was about 10 percent of the engineers, and
I’m fairly sure that the new ones felt encouraged to join
because I was involved in the team who talked with them
when they came for interview,” said Duncan.
We dug a little deeper. We talked about the working