Eileen Ong-Osmond has been a trailblazer from the start. In 1978, she and her twin sister Suzie arrived in Australia from Malaysia and, as Eileen says, they certainly “stood out”.
But as they started studying for their Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering together, and when Eileen went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, she says there was “a real sense that we were the pioneers and trailblazers for women of our generation.”
After completing Year 12 at Vermont High School, Eileen and Suzie decided to pursue manufacturing engineering at Swinburne, despite calls from their father to do something different. “We had to sell the idea to him and the family that we were not going to be in overalls with oily hands,” says Eileen.
In the 1980s, women in engineering were a rarity. “Prior to our year at Swinburne there were only female students in the Engineering faculty every few years. The year we started, there were five women doing engineering and the Dean, Dr Murray Gillin, felt like he had struck gold!”
It wasn’t easy, however. As a female and a migrant pursuing engineering, Eileen encountered many obstacles and says she “felt the weight of the glass ceiling in those days.”
“I was one of those diligent students who focused on their studies. I remember being in the library on a Friday afternoon until closing time. I felt the need to do well in my studies to prove that women were just as capable. Today, with more women entering into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] there is greater acceptance of the need for the contribution of women in these fields.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Manufacturing) in 1985, Eileen was encouraged by Dr Gillin again – this time to foster her gift of entrepreneurship. Jumping straight into the new Graduate Diploma of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the budding young business woman set herself up for an exciting future.
In a true ‘we met at Swinburne’ moment, Eileen bumped into her future husband Peter Osmond in a campus computer room. Not to be left out, it was also on campus that Suzie met her husband Gordon Beith.
In 1997, Eileen and Peter moved to San Francisco so Peter could take up a new opportunity with Cisco Systems. Choosing to focus on raising their family, Eileen took some time away from her career.
“I had to adapt to being a non-working mother. My self-identity was in limbo…I knew I couldn’t go back to working 12-hour days and competing with young graduates with no familial responsibilities.”