Women should not be trade commissioners

This is an internal minute from AR Taysom, an officer of the Trade Commissioner Service, to his director and is numbered 4 and 5 on a Department of Trade file called 'Appointment of Female Trade Commissioners (Policy)'. The minute outlines nine reasons why the writer believes women should not be appointed as trade commissioners

Educational value

  • relates to opposition to the first appointment of a woman as an Australian trade commissioner – a trade commissioner works for the Australian Government and is responsible for facilitating business arrangements for Australian exporters in a particular overseas country, trade commissioners usually operate from within Australia's diplomatic missions overseas.

  • was written in the context of the proposal to appoint Beryl Wilson (now Moore) as Australia's first female trade commissioner – the proposed appointee had been 'manager' of Australia's Trade Office in Los Angeles for several years; for short periods, Wilson had also previously run an Australian Trade Office in San Francisco.

  • demonstrates the strength of opposition to the proposed appointment – some senior officers of the Department argued in written documents against the appointment, and Wilson had to endure verbal hostility when she returned to Australia to be officially inducted into the Trade Commissioners' Service; she also believed that there were efforts to induce medical officers to make her fail a medical examination.

  • is evidence of sexist attitudes and terminology – gender discrimination was common in the 1960s but all public servants in Australia today are bound by laws that prohibit the practice; no official could now use terminology such as that used in the document without inviting strong disciplinary action.

  • highlights discriminatory practices common at the time – an official of the Department of External Affairs is quoted as having said that the Department had recruited some female trainees but that on average they married within five years; this is a reference to the fact that until the late 1960s women were forced to resign from the Public Service when they married; because of this requirement, many men argued that it wasn't worth training women.

  • refers to the director of the Trade Commissioners' Service – the director, KL Le Rossignol, was also opposed to Wilson's appointment; Le Rossignol particularly shared Taysom's belief that a long-term unmarried female officer could turn into 'something of a battleaxe', whereas a 'man usually mellows'; according to Le Rossignol, there had been no alternative but to dismiss some female public servants aged about 50 because they had 'turned into complete tyrants'.

  • illustrates the final stage of an unsuccessful bid to block Wilson's appointment – with the support of the head of the Department of Trade and Industry, Alan Westerman, and his deputy, Alan Carmody, the appointment went ahead; Carmody recorded, however, that the appointment related only to Wilson, and it was not to be regarded 'in any sense as a precedent'.

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This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

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