Else Shepherd AM is a pioneer and role model in engineering. As one of the first women to graduate as an electrical engineer from the University of Queensland, her achievements throughout her career in a male dominated industry have set a high standard for others to follow.
Else Shepherd was one of the first women in engineering at a time when the industry was predominantly male. She is known as a pioneer and role model who has inspired progress in the professional acceptance of women in non-traditional fields.
Ms Shepherd was born in South Africa in 1944. Her family moved to Australia in 1956 where she attended Brisbane Girls Grammar School. As a student she excelled in maths and physics and was inspired by the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik to enrol at the University of Queensland to study engineering.
“I most enjoyed science and maths at school. My father was a doctor, and it was expected that I might follow his career, but I wanted my own and chose engineering”, explained Ms Shepherd.
Ms Shepherd graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1965 and following her graduation, Ms Shepherd worked as an operations research engineer for the Sugar Research Institute in Mackay.
A truly modern woman, she would continue to challenge the social expectations of women at that time, working in a profession while being a wife and mother of two.
“At the time I didn’t think I was a leader. It wasn’t until I was older and had spent more time in my industry that I realised that I was leading by example and encouraging other women”, said Ms Shepherd.
In Brisbane, she formed Mosaic Information Technology, with the company’s main function involving the design and manufacturing of telecommunications products and modems. In 1994 Ms Shepherd became Chairman for 17 years of the high-voltage transmission company, Powerlink Queensland.
Later in 2002, she formed a new company, Microwave and Materials Design which primarily developed microwave filters for mobile phones.
Ms Shepherd has sat on a number of company and not-for-profit boards including the National Electricity Market Management Company (now AEMO), the Brisbane City Council Advisory Board and from 2005-2011 she was the Chair of the Australian International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) National Committee, and a member of the IEC Council Board from 2005-2010.
“Standards Australia actually invited me to get involved when I was working at Powerlink. My experience lined up and I haven’t looked back. Standards are essential in my industry and others. They’re needed to help simplify our work, provide uniform guidance and give consumers confidence in end products. I’ve learnt so much through my work with standards – the working groups do fantastic research, and the global collaboration is essential in the field. I’m very grateful for the extraordinary experience”, elaborated Ms Shepherd.
For her exceptional contributions to engineering, education and the electrical engineering industry, Ms Shepherd was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), an indisputably well-deserved honour. She was also awarded a Centenary Medal for her services to Australia in the field of information technology.
Although she was never permitted to attend their meetings in the 1960s, the Institute of Engineers Australia recognised Ms Shepherd’s role in the industry by naming her the 2000 Queensland Professional Engineer of the Year. She is also an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
Ms Shepherd has been ranked for three consecutive years by Engineers Australia as one of Australia’s "Top 100 Most Influential Engineers". In 2007, she was ranked one of Australia's "Top 25 Most Influential Female Engineers". In 2009, The University of Queensland named her Alumnus of the Year.
In 2011, the University of Queensland, in recognition of her distinguished career, her service to Queensland and Australia and her contribution to the university itself, awarded her Doctor of Engineering honoris causa.
“Else embodies the definition of ‘Trailblazer’, blazing the way for brilliant women like herself entering non-traditional fields. Throughout her career she has contributed to industry development in electrical engineering from a women’s perspective which can at times offer more insight into areas for improvement where others may not observe. We are thankful for Else’s tireless commitment and immense knowledge”, said Kareen Riley-Takos, General Manager Operations at Standards Australia.
Ms Shepherd is currently Adjunct Professor and CEO in Residence at Queensland University of Technology’s Engineering Faculty.