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Jonathan A. Segal
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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.

THIS ARTICLE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, AS PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATIONS OR AS CREATING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

About Jonathan A. Segal
349
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .
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Jonathan A. Segal
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We moved our October 15 event, Lean In Dialogues, to another center city location.  Easy access in and out of city. Click image below.

We are filling up the magnificent space very  fast. Only concern: not as many men have signed up, as of now, as we had hoped.

Smart men know that they benefit from gender equality . Smart men also would benefit in hearing what women in power may never have told them; you’ll hear it here.  We have seen many men felled because they made mistakes that could have been avoided.

If interested, please register ASAP

Women: of course, the same invite is extended to you but I had to get the attention of the men.

If interested, please e-mail Taylor that you are registering. Taylor’s email address is tmreynolds@duanemorris.com

We effectively have changed forum 3 times to meet demand.  We need to monitor attendance because we cannot change again.

Note the panel. True honor to facilitate.

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About Jonathan A. Segal
240
author_image
Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .