Frances Adamson appointed first woman to lead Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

By on 20/07/2016 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Frances Adamson's appointment brings the number of female department secretaries in Australia to seven, more than at any other time.

Frances Adamson has today been appointed the first female civil servant to lead Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Her appointment brings the number of female department secretaries to seven, more than at any other time.

Adamson, who is currently international adviser to Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, was Australia’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China from 2011 to 2015.

She has also served in the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong, as representative to the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei and in the Australian High Commission in London.  

She was chief of staff to the minister for foreign affairs and then the minister for defence from 2009 to 2010.

Turnbull said Adamson “has had a distinguished career as a diplomat and brings a depth of experience and understanding of international affairs to this position.”

Adamson has been appointed for a five-year term beginning on Friday.

Jane Halton, another female secretary in charge of the finance department, told Global Government Forum last year that being one of a handful of female leaders can add extra pressure to the job.

But she said that, while she is “very conscious” that she’s seen as a role model, she doesn’t “spend a lot of time agonising about it.”

Since Halton became Australia’s second ever female departmental secretary, their numbers have increased significantly. And the country scores well in global comparative data.

Australia came second in the Global Public Sector Women Leaders Index, a dataset tracking the proportion of female senior civil servants in each of the G20 nations produced by Global Government Forum in conjunction with consultancy EY.

Canada, which tops the list, has 46.1% of female senior leaders in government, compared to 40.1% in Australia and 39.8% in South Africa.


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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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