Why “Mad Men” Isn’t Really Over

Why “Mad Men” Isn’t Really Over

AMC’s popular “Mad Men” television series just ended.  In case you’ve been in deep space and missed it, “Mad Men” is about the heyday of the advertising business on Madison Avenue in the 60’s.  Central character Don Draper is a sexist, perhaps misogynistic, condescending Madison Avenue executive.  What is painful about the messages from this time period of American history is that we haven’t left some of the behaviors behind.  It’s still a man’s world.  Let me qualify that statement.  It’s still a white, privileged man’s world.  I’m not saying that the world of men is full of Don Drapers.  However, young women still receive messages that power comes from powerful men and being attractive has its advantages.  In 2000, Meyerson and Fletcher wrote their manifesto for shattering the glass ceiling.  They said the roots of inequity were a corporate culture that is created by and for men.  Here we are 15 years later and there are still few women at the top

As much as we tout the advantages of diversity in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, we have yet to break some of the patterns of the past.  Although the face of America is changing, a dominant corporate culture prevails.  I believe that privileged white males today are often unaware of their behaviors that continue to create barriers for women and others who don’t fit the cultural norm.  Often the white male culture doesn’t realize how they are excluding certain groups.  Lack of awareness, perhaps, is one of the problems.  In the June series of blogs from the I-O sphere, I want to tackle lack of awareness from the top of the corporate ladder. 

In I-O psychology, a commonly cited adage is “tone is set at the top.”  You can’t go any higher than the corporate boardroom where the most important cultural decisions are made.  The board of directors is responsible for hiring, monitoring, and firing the chief executive officer (CEO).  If the CEO sets the tone for the organizational culture, then it follows that what the directors communicate during the hiring of the CEO sets the tone for expectations. 

My favorite example of a board communicating all the wrong things for the (mostly) right reasons is the Harvard board’s recruitment and hiring of Lawrence Summers.  The board wanted a provocateur—someone to “shake things up” at Harvard.  Mission accomplished, but Summers’s brand of provocation wasn’t exactly what the Harvard board had in mind.  Summers alienated faculty and the public alike with his sexist comments about women in math and sciences.  

Eventually Summers was ousted because of a conflict of interest—not because of his sexist remarks.  Summers is, by most accounts, a brilliant economist whose counsel is sought by U.S. Presidents and Wall Street executives.  However, I would not want him to mentor my daughter or to be her boss.  His backward thinking that women and girls are not innately smart enough to be in math and science fields would give me a reason to believe that his behavior toward women would verge on the Don Draper. 

Breaking the glass ceiling means not asking a man to hold the ladder.  To envision the possibilities and potential careers, young women and girls need role models and mentors.  At risk of sounding sexist, Don Draper types are not acceptable.  Not that some men aren’t great mentors, but young women need to see women who have made it to the top of the corporate ladder.  Tone needs to be set at the top in corporate boardrooms. 

Breaking the glass ceiling in corporate boards will be the subject of the June series of blogs in I-O psychology.  I welcome your ideas, comments, and questions.

Comments

Kelley Conrad's picture Kelley Conrad | May 30, 2015 8:24 pm MST

Sherry Jennings kicked off the June Blog with some fresh thinking about corporate boards and how "the tone is set at the top."  I-O psychologists because of our connection with top management can have a lot of influence in this area.  Where you stand?  Have you thought about how you might counsel an executive team about appropriate actions they might take to enhance the promotability and support for women as potential senior managers?

Kelley Conrad's picture Kelley Conrad | May 30, 2015 8:25 pm MST

Sherry Jennings kicked off the June Blog with some fresh thinking about corporate boards and how "the tone is set at the top."  I-O psychologists because of our connection with top management can have a lot of influence in this area.  Where you stand?  Have you thought about how you might counsel an executive team about appropriate actions they might take to enhance the promotability and support for women as potential senior managers?

About the Author

Sherry Jennings

2021

Articles/Blogs

Journal of Leadership Studies-Symposium Piece-Relational Leadership: Perspectives of Key Constructs on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity in Higher Education

Psychology Today
Blog Posts Published

Conferences

American Psychological Association Conference-Utilizing Clinical Hypnotherapeutic Intervention with CBT to Treat Pandemic-Aug. 13-2021 Symptomology

ILA Conference Geneva Switzerland 2021
Presenter -Topic-"The Stress Arc in Leadership and 3 Powerful Disciplines for Mitigating Major Stress Impacts in a New Era"-Upcoming
Presenter -Topic-“Improving Higher Education’s Role in Diversity and Social Equity through Relational Leadership in the New Era”-Upcoming
Presenter-Topic-"Healthcare Leadership-Using Virtuous Leadership in Chaos to Reimagine Beneficial Practices of Employee Cognitive Psychology"-Upcoming
 
2021-Knowledge Without Boundaries National Summit-College of Doctoral Studies Research Conference-University of Phoenix-Panel Discussion-"Exploring Emergent Trends in Leadership and Education"-Based on published symposia article from the Journal of Leadership Studies- https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jls.21734

 

Sherry Jennings
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