Is the Mad Men Corporate Closet a Relic of the Past?
Posted 05.19.14
Jonathan A. Segal

Last night’s #MadMen was one of its very best.  The cold war between Don and Peggy has thawed.  After confiding in each other about their vulnerabilities, and also sharing some laughs, Don and Peggy danced tenderly together to Sinatra’s “My Way.” Somehow Don and Peggy are their best when they are their best with each other. Will they end up together?

But there was a subplot of importance involving the return of Bobby Benson.  We meet Benson this season bailing out a GM executive, Bill Hartley, who had been arrested for coming on to an undercover [male] officer.

Later, Hartley tells Benson that GM is pulling their Chevy business from SC&P.  However, there is good news, too, at least for Benson.  Buick will be making an offer to Benson.

Although not perceptible, Benson panics.  How will he survive in corporate America without a wife?  Not yet expressly said, Benson is gay.

To provide the corporate cover that he believes he needs, Benson asks Joan to marry him (by rudely diminishing her life as it now is without him).  Joan declines, saying, “you shouldn’t be with a woman.”  The “g” word remains unsaid.

Of course, that was more than 40 years ago.  Much has changed since then in terms of legal rights and corporate policies.  But perhaps not as much has changed in terms of what I call comfort rights.

On the same day as the this Mad Men episode,  the Sunday New York Times ran an article, “Where Are The Gay Chief Executive Officers?”  Not naming any, the Times noted how few LGBT executives are willing to come out of the closest publicly.

As the article notes, legal protections and corporate policies don’t necessarily translate into what is perceived as an accepting culture.  We need to go from tolerance to acceptance for there to be an inclusive culture in which people can be open as to who they are in terms of their sexual orientation.

At times, that may mean walking away from a contract, as the Times reported Deloitte did when a client said they did not want a gay person on the team.  Every responsible employer should do the same where there is unlawful/unacceptable customer/client preference, whether it be based on gender, race or sexual orientation.

Protestations of  inclusion are fine. But money talks. And when a company lets it walk because of bigotry, it sends a stronger message than any training could.

Will Benson eventually come out at SP&D?  Not likely if corporate leaders don’t 40 years later with growing legal and policy protections supporting them.

In the meantime, we have only one episode left in this half season.  We all feel something ominous is going to happen; we just don’t know to whom and how bad.  With increasing anxiety, I will wait until next week.


About Jonathan A. Segal
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 .