Mad Women (And We Should Be)

AMC struck television drama gold when it premiered its award-winning series, Mad Men. The show, set in New York City back in the 1960s, revolves around the personal and professional lives of the men and women at a Madison Avenue advertising agency. The show has been applauded for its depiction of social issues during the time period including smoking, alcoholism, adultery, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism, especially in the workplace. The watershed moment of women finding their way into the workplace is depicted best through the character of Peggy Olson. Peggy starts as a secretary at the ad agency and learns pretty quickly that to get ahead you have to be sexy and oblivious. Peggy has a flair for writing ad copy, however, and eventually rose in the ranks to become the firm’s only female copywriter.

We scoff at and criticize Mad Men's blatant sexism in the workplace. But we tell ourselves that was back then, not now. Women in the communications industry and media-related jobs have increased steadily. According to the Media Report to Women, female students have been the increasing majority of students in journalism and mass communication schools since 1977.

The number of women in these fields have increased since the Mad Men days, but the glass ceiling in communications and media jobs hasn't exactly broken. Some areas are still almost entirely held by men. Sports journalism, for example, where the jobs are dominantly held by white males. Women make up only 9% of reporters in sports journalism. The numbers still seem low when we look at other areas as well: women in the newsroom stands at roughly 38%, with 40% in television news and 23% in radio.

There also is a significant wage gap between men and women. A study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research in 2006 noted that [white] men are paid 29% more than white women and 46% more than women of color.

If the actual numbers in the field seem low, the number of women who actually hold upper-level jobs is far worse. If we want to directly compare to Mad Men, things in advertising agencies don't seem to have changed all that much. Of Adweek's top 33 advertising agencies, only four women hold positions as creative directors who make the decisions related to message content for ads.

Maybe Mad Men can teach us more than we think. Instead of looking at it as "days gone by" perhaps we should apply it to our own reality and take it as a lesson to keep moving forward.

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