Eleanor Macdonald enrolled as an external student at the London School of Economics in 1944, graduating with a sociology degree three years later. Prior to this, she and her brother had run a fencing school and club (situated on the roof of Bush House in central London). A highly accomplished fencer, Eleanor Macdonald was the first woman to qualify as a maître d'armes of the Académie de l'Épée de Paris. On leaving the LSE in 1947 she joined Atkinsons of Old Bond Street, a famous perfumery business. Here she was promoted to senior manager and joined the Board of Directors in 1951.
During the 1960s she worked for Unilver in west Africa though became disillusioned in the company and its attitude to senior women managers. In response she set up her own business, EM Courses, to develop courses and seminars for women at all levels of management. Her clients included IBM and the World Health Organisation.