Trade secrets: Women, become ‘battleaxes’ at work

by 06 Aug 2009

The Sydney Morning Herald’s front-page story this week questioning the Australian Trade Commission’s actions after one of its senior diplomats, John Finnin, was investigated by police for child sex offences, raised more than a few questions about the commission’s HR & employment policies here at Inhuman Resources.

Finnin, who served as Austrade’s head of trade for Europe, the Middle East and Africa until his resignation in 2006, and went on to work for the controversial fuel technology Firepower, was convicted of 23 child sex charges in Victoria last month, and had been previously been investigated by German and/or Dutch police as early as 2005, the Herald reported.

Curious as to whether Austrade were embarking on any internal navelgazing over the incident, Inhuman Resources found one of the Commission’s earlier reviews of its employment policies, summarised in a Minute Paper from March 1963, simply titled: ‘Women Trade Commissioners?’

On the question of whether women would be fit to be appointed to the post of Trade Commissioner, the document declares, “a relatively young attractive woman could operate with some effectiveness,” surmising that “if we had an important trade in women’s clothing and accessories, a women might promote this more effectively than a man.”

However, “such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.”

Chief among the Commission’s concerns was that a woman would not be able to “year after year... stand the fairly severe strains and stresses, mentally and physically, which are part of the life of a Trade Commissioner,” as she would have to take on the dual role of diplomat and running her household effectively “all on top of her normal work”.

Additionally, the report states women could not be regarded as a long term investment in the same sense as a man could because “she could marry at any time and be lost to us.”

Of course, should she elect not to marry and stay in her post, “A spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows.”

Offering comment, a Mr N. Parkinson from the Department of External Affairs takes pains to point out in the paper’s post script that “under the Public Services Act, there is no way of precluding women from applying” before ruing that their propensity to marry within five years of their initial induction, creates “a very expensive process, but External Affairs lack courage to slam the door because of parliamentary opinion, pressure groups, and so on.”

Despite these recommendations, the department soon after appointed Australia’s first female trade commissioner, Freda Beryl Wilson, to the Los Angeles office. No doubt it was more than a good knowledge of frocks and handbags that got her over the line.

Inhuman Resources wonders what may be unearthed in the Austrade archives in another forty years or so...

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