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Mad About Mad Men

As originally published by SHRM's "We Know Next," found here.

Mad About Mad Men

By: Jonathan A. Segal

Sexism is more than illegal. It is immoral and bad business.

There is more than a little bit of sexism in the roles portrayed in Mad Men.  So why are so many of us crazy about the show, even though we deplore the sexism that is part of it?

Of course, it is a TV show and not real life. And, the characters are not only psychologically interesting but also physically attractive.

And, there is great writing and acting.   The sex doesn’t hurt, either. I hear it sells!

But I think there may be something else going on.  But perhaps not consciously.

Today, fortunately, the stereotypic constraints for women (and men) are breaking down.   And, that is all good. But it can also be confusing for  supervisors and subordinates alike as they try to navigate life at the office.

Obviously, sexism in not entirely gone. Some men still visit strip clubs while away on business.  But only a knuckle dragger who has no place in the modern workplace would suggest that women should go along to get along.

But when roles are not clear, and the bias that exists is unconscious or covert, it creates ambiguity. With ambiguity comes anxiety.

While there is psychological complexity in Mad Men, there is not a lot of ambiguity in terms of gender roles.  And, perhaps one of the reasons we are fascinated by it is because we are seeking a workplace that’s a little less ambiguous, even though it is deeply flawed in its clarity.

Don Draper is the likeable but the licentious alpha male who pursues and gets what he wants from his workplace, economically as well as sexually. In contrast, Red is well...Red.  In addition to how she presents herself in the workplace, she makes sure that the other women "know their place" in the workplace.

All accept their gender-defined roles, except for Peggy. She will not accept the gender role assigned to her.   She is ambitious and we will see soon how far her ambition takes her.

But Peggy struggles with her own ambition.  And those in the 1960 Boys’ Club around her struggle with her ambition, too.

The ambivalence in and about Peggy still exists in our workplaces today.  Yes, it is less conspicuous and often unconscious, but we deceive ourselves if we believe it is not there.

Assertive women still face unfair “Catch-22s” every day.  Be directly assertive and you may be branded with Scarlett B.  Be more indirect and you may be seen as weak and/or underhanded.

And, many men are confused by the sea change.  How should we behave?

I recently gave a talk for executives about gender bias.  After the talk, I took the elevator down to the lobby with some of the participants.  When the door opened, no one knew what to do.  I had a “brilliant” suggestion: those closest to the opening leave first.

So we look with distaste at the sexism and all that which goes with it.  But, perhaps, we also yearn, to some degree, for greater clarity. Guess what: we can’t have it.

Stereotypes define roles. We now need to define our roles for ourselves without society unfairly assigning them to us.

The freedom is of course liberating and for the best. But it is not without some anxiety.

But, take a break from anxiety, and enjoy Mad Men this weekend.  I know I will.

The author, a partner with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute, focuses on counseling, training and strategic planning to minimize litigation and unionization.




Jason Collins: Who Will Come Out Next?

I am pleased to post my most recent blog for SHRM's WeKnowNext:  This blog focuses on how to respond if and when an employee comes out to you.


This blog should not be construed as legal advice, as establishing an attorney-client relationship or as pertaining to factual situations.


A Valentine's Day Warning

As oiginally published by SHRM's We Know Next:




I Love You (A Valentine's Day Warning)

As originally published by SHRM's "We Know Next" found here.

I Love You

It is 9 am.  The secretary reports to her desk.  Waiting for her is a sealed card.

The secretary opens the envelope and it is a Valentine's card from her manager.  Having undergone sensitivity training, the manager signs it "fondly" as opposed to "lovingly."

The employee is creeped out and goes to HR.  HR talks with the manager based on a script we had prepared together.

HR asks the manager if he knows why the card is inappropriate.  He responds "no."

HR asks the manager to whom else he gave a Valentine's card and he answers his wife.  Again, it is asked:  do you know why card was inappropriate?  Again, he answers "no."

We now take out the crow bar.  Is there anything you do with your wife in privacy that you don't do with secretary?  Ding.  Ding.  Ding.

Every year, we get 1 or 2 calls about harassment claims arising out of Valentine's Day cards.  Employees can be so sensitive when their bosses tell them:

To the love of my life

I cherish our moments together

I love you

Recommendation:  no Valentine's day cards at work.  This is particularly true in terms of supervisory-subordinate relationships.

Of course, that does not mean that everyone who sends a Valentine’s day card is intending to convey a romantic message.  After all, there are now Valentine’s day cards for parents, kids, etc.

For some, the Valentine’s day card is simply a way to say you are important to me.  The problem is the nature of the holiday may confuse the reason as to why the employee is important.

Make clear to your employees, by your words and actions, how important they are to the organization.  Recognition and appreciation are the vitamins employees need every day. Just don't tell them that they are the loves of your life. Unless you want a plaintiffs’ lawyer to fall in love with you.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice, pertaining to specific factual situation or establishing an attorney-client relationship.



Jonathan Segal

Business Ally. Help clients achieve business goals and manage legal risks. Areas of focus include: gender equality; wage and hour compliance; social media; leadership training; union avoidance; performance management; and agreements

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© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.