First published on the Robert Half blog, July 2014
From chain-smoking directors to outdated views on race and gender, the celebrated drama – which revolves around ’60s Manhattan advertising agency Sterling Cooper (and its many name iterations) – shines the spotlight on attitudes that would spark an outcry in the modern workplace.
Here are five policies we’re glad we don’t tolerate today.
Pregnant women must give up their jobs
These days, working mothers in Australia and New Zealand are eligible for as much as a year of maternity leave, but in the 1960s, women contemplating babies were forced to give up their jobs. When Sterling Cooper’s office manager Joan Harris becomes pregnant, she’s immediately forced to surrender the job she loves.
Non-white staff members are relegated to administrative roles
Although diverse hiring practices play a starring role in the modern workplace, Mad Men is proof that this wasn’t always the case. In season five, Sterling Cooper’s management team published a joke advertisement asking African Americans to apply for a position and were shocked when dozens of applicants flocked to the office in response. In the end, this led to the hiring of Dawn, the company’s first African-American employee.
Indoor chain-smoking is a daily ritual
In an era in which smoking indoors is considered unthinkable, it’s surprising to note that cigarette consumption was once a regular part of professional life. In Mad Men, creative director Don Draper is often hunched over a typewriter, inhaling countless cigarettes – a workplace practice that spells disaster for public health.
Women aren’t encouraged to pursue leadership positions
Mad Men sees women stuck in secretarial positions, while the men are creative directors, art directors and senior managers. However, Peggy Olson’s anomalous ascent from receptionist to head of copy – a path paved with double standards – is a central focus of the show.
Partners are urged to take long, whisky-fuelled client lunches
At Sterling Cooper, employees and clients discuss contracts and new projects over long, alcohol-heavy lunches. In fact, the partners at Sterling Cooper spend more time consuming alcohol than they do meeting professional responsibilities, leaving little room for getting work done.
From rampant sexism to on-the-job drinking, Mad Men’s office policies prove just how far we’ve come. And though we’re glad to kiss these outdated and over-the-top practices goodbye, we’re always on the lookout for the positive workplace trends now and beyond.