April 26th, 2012

Some dedicated viewers of the hit television show “Mad Men” may find themselves enamored with the office environment portrayed in the show. Other viewers, who still enjoy the show, might find the office environment offensive as it is rife with gender discrimination.

The show depicts a fictional advertising agency in the early 1960’s. In the universe of the show, the agency executives are portrayed as nearly continually smoking and drinking. Women in the show are almost exclusively in support and administrative roles. While much of the work environment depicted on the show may seem foreign to our current sensibilities, unfortunately some of these practices still occur in the modern workplace.

As evidence that the mentality that drive that antiquated view of gender in the workplace has not completely disappeared, Forbes magazine even published an article entitled “”Lessons From ‘Mad Men’: Sales Tips From Don Draper,” though it focused more on sales tactics than sexual discrimination.

While discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation has always been wrong, in the years during which the show is set, many of our current laws regarding the workplace were not yet in place. The Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1963 and 1964 respectively, made important changes to the legal landscape regarding fair treatment in the workplace. Here in Minnesota, the Human Rights Act of 1993 outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.

While the romanticized version of life in an advertising agency portrayed on the show does make for good television, fortunately we have come a long way since the days of Don Draper in terms of defending equity in the workplace.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Thank goodness ‘Mad Men’ workplace era is over,” April 25, 2012.

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