Women of the Canadian Foreign Service.
Margaret K. Weiers.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Diplomacy is not a career for the faint-hearted. However, it can be an immensely satisfying one for a woman with a sense of adventure, a thick skin, a yen to travel and live in foreign countries, a desire to make a difference, and a gambler's instinct to beat the odds.
MARGARET WEIERS HAS WRITTEN a first-of-its-kind book recording the stories of twenty-two female career officers in the Canadian Foreign Service. Weiers has almost forty years of journalistic experience, and her witty, precise style captures the struggles and victories of this small but determined band of women, and fills an important chapter in Canadian History.
Based on interviews with many of the women themselves, and an extensive range of articles, news stories, and books of political analysis, Envoys Extraordinary chronicles the trials, resourcefulness in the face of discrimination, and ultimate success of these women.
Until 1947, women could not write the Foreign Service examination. Until, women could only begin as clerks and secretaries and rose through the ranks only through uncontestable ability. Witness Agnes McCloskey, who went from obscure clerk to chief accountant in External Affairs, and wielded such extensive power over budgets and expense accounts that she was both feared and reviled for her parsimony.
Restrictions on women in the foreign service keeping their jobs if they married persisted until 1971, years after the practice had stopped in other government departments. Nevertheless, eleven of the women Weiers profiles became ambassadors, and two have been deputy ministers.
Although women have established a firm beachhead in fields such as medicine and law, External Affairs is still a male bastion. As in politics, where women have succeeded as individuals, but not collectively, the odds are still stacked heavily against women in the diplomatic corps.
Everyone would do well to read these pages, in which much of Canada's history unfolds. Weiers's conclusion is that for women, External Affairs is "Not for the Faint of Heart."
Grace Shaw is a teacher at Vancouver Community College.
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