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9 Career Lessons From the Women of Mad Men

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Roger Sterling: Get me some coffee, will you?
Peggy Olson: No.

Brace yourselves. This sunday the season premiere of the final season of Mad Men airs. I know. Have a good cry (but we still have Game of Thrones for two more years at least!). It has been a long, amazing, and very boozy ride with these complicated characters. We’ve learned so much about what the workplace was like in the 1950s and 1960s. More alcohol, amazing outfits, and some really sexist treatment of women (sadly though the equal pay for women is still pretty much the same as it was in 1963).

Even though the show is called Mad Men and the protagonist is a man, it has really always been about the women. New York Magazine confirmed it earlier this year when they put Elizabeth Moss, who plays the resilient and ahead-of-her-times Peggy, on the cover and declared that “Elizabeth Moss Has Been the Star of ‘Mad Men’ All Along.”

Before the start of Season six New York Times columnist Alessandra Stanley wrote:

“But the women of the show, more than the men, are the ones who defy expectations and break ground. The show about so-called mad men was always a paean to the sane women who serve them. As the series prepares to shut down, the men seem spent and preoccupied by death; it’s the women who keep us wanting just a little bit more.”

We can’t wait to see what the women of Mad Men do this season. But for now, let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn from past years.

1. Ask for more.

Peggy Olsen is a Levo girl! Though the poor girl never had the career advice resources that the women today have, she still managed to Lean In! Peggy Olsen is one of the most interesting characters on the show because in season one we thought she was just a naive, shy little secretary who would never get anywhere, and look at what she’s become. She works extremely hard and brings a young, fresh perspective to every campaign, which many of her colleagues simply can’t do, even Don Draper.

In the clip below she boldly goes up to Roger Sterling and states her case for why she deserves an office, and he gives it to her. She was never going to get it otherwise.

2. Don’t just do what’s expected of you, do what makes you happy.

Now, the truth is, it was just so much harder for women in the time that Mad Men started its run. It was harder for them to pursue careers and it was really not expected unless they had to make money. In 1950, only one in every three women entered the workforce. But we have seen the changes in society for women reflected on the show as time goes by, especially with characters like Peggy and Don’s new wife, Megan. By the 1960s, social and economic forces made higher education more available to women, thus increasing their job opportunities. Between 1960 and 1965 there was a 57 percent increase in women being awarded degrees in the U.S. (the same figure for men rose by 25 percent). But women were still not supposed to be openly ambitious, and white men still dominated everything.

Betty Draper, perhaps the most fascinating character on the show, is the symbol of what Betty Friedan warned about in The Feminine Mystique. It was a very different time for women back then. The new generation of feminism was just coming into play. Women until then had been raised to believe that their purpose was to find a good husband, even if they were well-educated. She feels empty and unsatisfied, even though she has everything she should want (well, no one needs a philandering husband). Part of the reason Betty is so angry is that she didn’t get to pursue anything outside of being a wife (and she’s probably clinically depressed). And she never even got the chance to lean in.

3. Learn how to play with the boys.

If you work in a male-dominated atmosphere like Peggy, you need to be able to keep up and play nice. This means that you need to go to social events that everyone else goes to, you need to create relationships with the men, and you need to do things that they do.

After a few times of Peggy being uninvited to her coworkers’ meetings, she realized that she needed to make a change. So, she began dressing more like a woman and started attending events that the men all went to, such as going out for cocktails. If you’re not a part of the inner circle, then you may miss opportunities that everyone else has. Plus, men are fun! Try to build relationships with them and find a common ground. But you don’t have to sit on anyone’s lap like Peggy did (actually, just don’t do that).

4. Do be a mentor to a younger, clueless girl in the office.

Though Joan and Peggy had a bit of a rough start, they now do have a mentoring relationship despite Peggy being higher up in the company. Though Joan is never really nice, she has become a sympathetic ear for Peggy and tells her the truth when she needs to hear it, even if it is unpleasant. Joan has really helped Peggy come out of her shell and blossom in her career and as a woman. She even helped her start dressing better.

5. Command a room.

Joan does a lot of things you probably shouldn’t do, but one thing she does do right is convey that she’s a very strong woman and you don’t want to mess with her. Yes, many of the men are mentally undressing her, but at the same time they’re terrified of her. Joan went from secretary to head secretary to being a partner at the advertising agency. In anything Joan does, she shows she’s completely in charge. Whether she’s running a product test or attending to a bloody lawnmower victim, Joan is the office mom (and the office siren).

I love this clip below because it shows Joan is one step ahead of the boys (and the rest of the women) and basically teases them.

6. Dress for success.

Style is another main character on the show. For some characters, style gives them more power, like Don. With Peggy you can see a real transformation over the years. The first year she wore Peter Pan collars and frumpy dresses, but as she moved up the career ladder she started to dress more seriously and stylishly. This was Joan’s advice to Peggy when Peggy asked her how to be considered an equal among the men. Peggy was dressing like a little girl and she needed to dress like a woman.

7. Don’t sleep with your boss or (creepy) coworker.

Okay, for most of the women on the show (Joan, Megan, and Peggy) this is a what-not-to-do lesson. No one seems to be able to keep their clothes on in advertising! Especially during this time, when offices doubled as bedrooms and bars.

Before you actually date anyone in the workplace you need to understand that, more likely than not, it will end badly. You need to be able to continue working as if there’s no change in your personal life, and you need to not be affected by seeing your ex at work. For Peggy, she ended up secretly pregnant by married man Pete Campbell at work. For Joan and Sterling, Joan was left feeling like the mistress and ended up unhappy.

8. Do pursue your passion.

After going from secretary to wife of the boss, Megan realized she was being treated very differently than her coworkers. So instead of just letting it go, she quit and decided to turn to her passion, acting.

9. Do beat your enemy at their own game.

In the last season we got to see Sally Draper start navigating the complexity of adolescence. At one point she visited Miss Poter’s, a boarding school she was very interested in attending. She thought she was being guest-hosted by a lovely girl, but it turns out that girl made Blair Waldorf look like Glinda the Good Witch. She threatened to give Sally a bad review because Sally didn’t know she was supposed to provide alcohol and male company (you know, how young people impressed eachother before Instagram). But the quick-thinking Sally saved her skin by calling on her old, creepy friend Len who brought all the goods. Let’s just say, the girls knew they had found their match in Sally Draper. When backed into a corner, make sure you have a good support network. Your network will get you through everything.

What other lessons have you learned from Mad Men? Tell us in the comments!

Photo: Mad Men / Facebook


#Tv #Mad Men Lifestyle Career Advice
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Peggy also dances the fine line between asking for what you want and appearing naive by asking for too much, or asking inappropriately. There is so much to learn from her character's successes, but also from the awkward moments in which you recognize that you must always be able to back up why you are asking for more.

Love, love, LOVE this article - I watched all the seasons of Mad Men while plunging headfirst into the startup community in the Midwest. Peggy was definitely an inspiration to me trying to wade my way through what can often become a boys club. This is an excellent, excellent read, thank you!

Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

I can't really watch the show without thinking about a million and a half career lessons! Great job on this!

SCREEEEEEEEEEECH. That was me bringing this to a screeching halt. Can we please discuss Dr. Faye Miller? I don't remember the exact words and I can't find the quote anywhere, but in an exchange with Peggy she says she gave up trying to be a man in a man's world and focused on being really good at being a woman. I know I'm not explaining it well--does anyone else remember that conversation?

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