Why not to hire a woman, Australia edition, 1963

An Australian Department of Trade document listing the reasons women should not be hired to be trade commissioners. "A spinster lady can, and often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows." (HT: @christinelhenry)


  1. The distressing thing is, this actually reads as a list of the major obstacles women had to, and to a large extent still do, overcome to be taken seriously.  Between this and Mad Men, I’ve really been given new perspective on what women in the workforce had to go through to get to where they are today.

  2. A woman probably typed it, too. I can see Mr Taysom feeling a chill as he catches just the briefest flash of contempt in her glance while she hands him the finished document (I like to imagine).

  3. A large portion of this is completly bullshit. But I thought the combination of points 1,6 and the PS at the end of the report were interesting. Basically that they were hiring female trainees, that they all got married and left within five years and so there were few female candidates even basically qualified.

    These types of hiring problems are more than one organization or department. The society around them must support change. Before there can be female trade commissioners you need a society where women expect to continue their own careers after marriage.

    1.  Or indeed even be legally allowed to.  I was horrified to read about what Ruby Payne-Scott had to endure in the 40’s and 50’s in Australia.  A pioneer radio astronomer she had to get married in secret as the Commonwealth government had legislated that a married woman could not hold a permanent position within the public service. 

      I think points 1, 6 and the PS are still bullshit: you can’t create an environment where women can’t work and then use that as an excuse not to hire them.  It’s a self perpetuating bullshit machine!  An moebius strip of endless douchebaggery!

      1. An moebius strip of endless douchebaggery!

        Amazingly, this turn of phrase very accurately describes an awful lot about western society.  If you don’t mind, I’ll be using it in the future.

  4. Wow, it never ceases to amaze me how far we women have come. Thank you a million times over to the women before me who fought for this change. I am constantly raking in the benefits and yet I feel like I haven’t done enough to fight for them. I really have the urge to kick a man in the shins right now, but that probably doesn’t do much to further the cause. Would be fun though…

  5. It seems to me that there’s a lot of that list still operating in the business world today; it’s just not stated as directly. Usually. I’ve heard plenty of “but women have babies!” and “there aren’t any qualified women!” and “They all leave, anyway.” And the point about not having a wife at home to deal with all the other stuff, including entertaining? Actually still a problem, because the system hasn’t changed. At least that point was kind of honest. Hard to move up the ladder without being able to put in the insane face time only possible if you have someone at home dealing with all the housework and childcare and chores and shopping.

    1. A woman in the UK just won a case against her employer who fired her because she got pregnant.  The punch line?  The employer was a school and she was a teacher.

    2. If anyone (male or female) can put in years or even decades of 60 hour plus work weeks, of course they are going to out compete those who cannot/will not.

      I got sick, I went from being able to work those insane hours to not being able to work any. Even if I were fully recovered, and could go back to work full time today, my career is effectively over. That’s the reality – I cannot compete with others that have been working for longer than I have (and nor would I have an expectation of being able to). I don’t see how that is different to taking time off for other reasons, nor do I see how it is linked to gender.

      1. Because women are, as a whole, less able to even have the opportunity to climb that ladder and put in those hours because the division of labor is still unequal. Women still do the majority of the housework, childcare, and etc, even when both spouses are working. This means the dude has the opportunity to put in more hours, and the entire system is predicated on the people who climb the ladder having someone who effectively takes care of a home life. And this is without throwing the question of life changing illness, injury, or whathave you into the equation. This is just the baseline. If the baseline is skewed, everything else is skewed, or as Scalzi put it, (Straight, white) male is the lowest difficulty setting there is, all else being equal. 

        1. I generally agree with that. However, barring gestation, none of the external barriers you list are inherently tied to gender.

          1.  Um, how so? Women being expected to and are in fact responsible for the majority of child care is not linked to gender? Employers assuming that any woman will eventually have babies and therefore be a bad employee is *not* linked to gender? Because let me tell you, fella, rarely does any one look at a man and say, “Don’t promote him, he has kids”. Certainly if you compare male executives and female executives, the men usually all have children, while the women very, very rarely do. And if they do, you can expect a lot of talk (even in the papers!) about their fitness as mothers.

          2. Anything you can do, I can do too – including raising children. However, we are both limited to what our biology lets us do, in this case, I can never gestate a child.

            At some point, a woman is going to decide that her career is more important than other people’s expectations, and she’s going to put her career first, in exactly the same way that men have (and have been expected to) for a long time. At some point, a man is going to decide to put his child first (despite the omnipresent assertion that men are useless parents, if not outright paedophiles).

            Changing the status quo has a cost. Just because you dislike the costs doesn’t mean the choice doesn’t exist. Talking about it isn’t going to change it, the action of women going to work and men raising children is going to change it. There will be opposition and barriers to that – so what? Should we all just bleat about how hard it is and give up?

            If you want a high powered career and children, inverting the male working female child rearing stereotype, then you are going to have to accept that it is a two person job, that your male partner is as fit a parent as you, and that they will be doing the bulk of the child rearing and housekeeping. From what you are saying, you sound nowhere near ready to accept that as a possibility. If you cannot accept it, why would you expect employers to?

        1. I’m sorry to disappoint you with my pragmatism.

          If you can find an employer who’ll pay you for how they feel about you rather than what you actually do (and that sits ok with you) then more power to you. I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable in that kind of a situation.

          1. Actually, how they feel about you is exactly how people are paid these days, rather than on what they do. Women get overlooked for promotion because they’re promoted on their records, while men are promoted on their “potential”. To say nothing of the fact that about every labor study ever shows that working more than 40 hours a week gains no productivity except for very short periods. So all those 60 work days? Pointless. But they FEEL you’re trying harder, right? And hey, what if a lady is qualified for the job? She’ll probably have babies and quit. That’s a feeling, not knowledge. And what if a lady already has babies? She’s gotta be uncommitted. Not like those dads. Tell me that’s completely logical and based on performance, not FEELINGS.

          2. First it’s how they feel about you, then it’s how they feel about men and what they know about women, and then it’s just “she’ll have a baby, so don’t waste your time”. Geez you have an awful opinion of people. Do you really believe what you wrote is an accurate reflection of the workplace?

            Where I am (ironically, Australia) there are legal protections against discrimination, so businesses are keen to avoid fines and compensation. Discrimination certainly still happens, but like any fight for rights you have to accept that at a certain point screaming ‘sexism’ at everything no longer cuts it – it’s the time off from work that is killing your prospects, not the fact you’ve had a child (and I know this, because I didn’t have a child and my career was impacted by time off in exactly the same way).

            Everywhere I’ve been, there have been senior managers who were female, many of whom had children. Women are doing just fine here – but they have to put in the work, just like everyone else. This one-sided persecution you describe simply doesn’t match my experience – I cannot vouch for where you are.

          3. This one-sided persecution you describe simply doesn’t match my experience

            That’s because you’re a man.

          4. That’s fair enough I suppose Antinous. I suppose I must accept that I cannot know what it is like to be female, and that my own experiences of discrimination (gay, mental illness) simply aren’t  worthy of comparison. Time to shut my mouth.

          5. Yes, goddamn you. It’s an accurate goddamn depiction of the workplace because I live it every day and there are reams and reams of studies on the subject that confirm that it’s not some crazy figment of my imagination. But what do I know, I’m just a woman in the working world, not like my experience should count for anything. I’m probably just making it up! Nothing like getting passed over for jobs in favor of dudes with lesser educations and lesser experience. Nothing like being patted on the head by my supervisors and told that I’m too assertive (by which they mean I occasionally voice an opinion) for management and asked about when I’m going to get married. Nothing like knowing scores of brilliant and talented women who work for an organization for twenty plus years and are still in entry level positions. It’s watching the brilliant and talented women I know apply for the jobs they’re already doing (because a position has gone unfilled for a long time) and being told they’re not qualified for it. It’s applying for jobs a step above mine and being turned down for lack of experience, while they hire some 22 year old dude straight out of college.  And FYI? I have no kids. I do not intend to have kids. And yet the baby thing? Still a problem for me. Maybe Australia is a magical mystical land where discrimination has ceased to exist, but I doubt it. I’ll grant that maybe you have saner labor laws, because god knows, the US isn’t winning many prizes there, but you know what? We have laws against discrimination, too. But this kind of discrimination? Awfully hard to prove on a case-by-case basis, because it’s something that shows up in patterns, and the supreme court, in its infinite wisdom, decided that women who were discriminated against by the policies of a single employer don’t have enough in common to bring about a class-action lawsuit. 
            As to everything else you said- especially about the child stuff- I can only assume that you prefer blind privilege to reality, because there’s no other way to make sense of the argument about time away from the job hurting a career. There’s a system in place that especially negatively impacts women, but brings no real gains to companies (the productivity problem). So women should just lump it? Really? Maybe it’s the system that should change. But what do you care? The system benefited you. 

            And save your condescension. I already get enough of it from men in real life, I don’t need it from jerks on the internet, too.

  6. This is a perfect example of the institutionalized attitudes against which the feminist movement arose. I was a young professional in the 60’s and I had forgotten how impossible it was to be anything more than a secretary or assistant; how women in business and education were not taken seriously, except in the position of amanuensis. We’ve come a long way, sisters!

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