Much of the drama that took place at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in this week’s episode happened with Peggy and Joan. Mad Men turned the lens on the issues and challenges facing women in those heady days. High on the list of those issues were the kinds of sexual harassment that Joan experienced with the boys in the creative department, the “boys will be boys” attitude that Don displayed to Peggy, and the general second class citizen status of women at male-dominated agencies. Unfortunately, scenes like the one that played out in the creative lounge at SCDP did happen and were part of the daily fare at agencies. Freelancer Joey's refusal to apologize to Joan and his declaring to Peggy “That’s why I don’t like working with women, they have no sense of humor” were not far off the mark.
That Was Then
The business challenges facing women went beyond sexual harassment and stereotyping. Educated, attractive, smart, savvy, creative women were graduating from college and eager to be part of the growing and glamorous advertising business. To break into the business they filled roles as secretaries, personal assistants, media analysts, and researchers. Women in the executive suites were non-existent, they rarely made it to executive positions on account teams and were only welcomed into the creative ranks when an account demanded a female touch. Thanks to pioneering women like Mary Wells, Phyllis Robinson, Joy Golden, Shelley Lazarus and others those Mad Men days are over. Mary Wells, for example, founded Wells Rich Greene, in 1966 and by 1969 she was reported to be the highest paid executive in advertising.
This Is Now
Today, thankfully, the ad agency workplace is nothing like it was in Peggy’s day. Industry estimates that more than half the staffers at agencies are women excelling at positions that used to be dominated by men. Today, there are many Don Drapers, Roger Sterlings and Pete Campbells that are women. There’s no doubt that the role of women in agency management has expanded and deepened and female power and positive influence on the industry is pervasive. That said, however, it was a long, tough road and women still are disproportionately represented in the very top management and ownership positions at agencies. I’m sure that women in advertising today view Peggy with mixed emotions. On the one hand she is a benchmark of how far women have come and in another way a reminder that it still is not a level playing field.