Workplace etiquette – then and now

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One of my favorite TV shows right now is “Mad Men.”  The show is set in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 1960s. In addition to the great writing and acting, the show does a wonderful job of capturing the details of that era.

This article talks about the differences in workplace etiquette from that era to today. As the article says, “It is a different world than we know now — thanks to civil rights and employment laws passed later in the 1960s and in the ’70s — but one that really existed.”

Among the differences, then and now:

  • The characters are shown drinking alcohol and smoking at the office. Smoking in public places is illegal in many areas. Drinking may be frowned upon at work and restricted by company rules, but it is not illegal.  
  • A character is depicted asking a job applicant if she is married. Inquiring about age and marital status in an interview is also illegal.
  • Aspects of “Mad Men” depict the friction between men vs. women in the workplace at that time, and underscores the enormous differences for women in the workplace compared to now. The male characters are shown making inappropriate remarks to the “girls.” A central story on “Mad Men” shows a female copywriter contending with the challenges of breaking into the old boys club.
  1. I, too, am a huge fan of “Mad Men.” I haven’t missed an episode. The demographic of the 1960s workforce was certainly different than it is today. First, the only black man working within the Sterling Cooper building (that I’ve noticed) runs the elevator. Second, the secretarial pool is exclusively staffed by women. The men in those days were clearly allergic to typewriter keys. Third, men in the office were clearly the dominant force while women acted somewhat “mouse like” — if you believe “Mad Men” is a full and accurate depiction.

    Just as things change, they also stay the same. A common analogy, but truth be told, there are women who lack the confidence today to transition out of traditional support roles. To date, only 2% of chief executive roles with companies in the US are held by women. A very small number, I feel. As women continue to climb the career ladder, there are those on the other side of the spectrum that have become complacent staying within the all-too-familiar support (non-management) role.

    Are women remaining in these roles because it’s been engrained in us over the years? Are women still being held back, for what you stated, due to the “old boys club”? Or is there something less complicated to blame, such as women (more so than men) sacrifice their careers more often in order to care for their families. I believe it’s the later.

    All-in-all, it’s fascinating to see how far the workforce has changed … and yet, how it’s remained the same. =/

    Teena Rose

  2. I really enjoyed the first season of “Mad Men,” and am looking forward to the second.

    The thing that really floors me is how the attitudes on smoking have changed from the late ’60s & ’70s to now. I know hardly anyone now that smokes, and they all sneak off outside to do it, where as a (very) young kid, I remember everyone did.

  3. The article really touches a nerve. Despite all the hype about breaking the glass ceiling, the modern workplace still poses many unaddressed challenges. Hopefully, we will see some progress in the coming years.

    Nimish Thakkar

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