Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The HR Impact of Sterling Cooper in 2009

If you don't watch AMC's hit show Mad Men, you should start immediately. It's a fabulous show about a fictional 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency named Sterling Cooper and the trials of tribulations of the agency and the main character, Don Draper.

One of the things that's great about the show is how they keep everything authentic for the time. That means that people drink, smoke, and take part in a lot of other activities that make Human Resource professionals cringe today, including excluding all minorities (and Jews), gender discrimination, and sexual harassment. But how much of what takes place in Sterling Cooper would not be allowed to go on today? Halogen Life did a great look at that and determined that while the drinking and the smoking may fly in certain states and certain companies, the sexual harassment and discrimination would not (H/T Jay for the article). Here are their conclusions:
  • Smoking - A smoke-filled Madison Avenue boardroom couldn’t legally exist today as New York, along with 22 other states, has laws banning smoking in the workplace, but unless the federal government or your city steps in, you’re free to light up in your office in over half of the states.
  • Drinking - For white-collar workers, there’s nothing legally wrong with knocking a few back in the office, per se. Federal law only deals with alcohol consumption in the workplace if it would threaten the health and safety of other employees or the public — like if the employee must drive or operate machinery. Obviously providing drinks to those under 21 can land you in hot water, but unless you happen to live in a particularly “dry” community where the sale and possession of alcohol is regulated, you’re probably in the clear. Office worker bees who don’t have those concerns are free to imbibe, so long as the boss approves.
  • Discrimination - Up until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employment discrimination was only prohibited by state and federal governments. Private businesses were free to hire and fire on any criteria they chose. Though actual change was slow coming, the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited businesses with over 15 employees from discriminating based upon race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
  • Sexual Harassment/Gender Discrimination - While women were covered in the discrimination provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee didn’t explicitly forbid sexual harassment as discrimination until 1980. Today, in the era of mandatory sensitivity trainings, Sterling Cooper would be hit with lawsuits faster than you can cry “sexual harassment.”
  • Their conclusion? - It’s unfortunately fathomable that the kind of womanizing and discrimination rampant at Sterling Cooper could still occur today, but if you’re looking to inject a little bit of a Mad Men-esque feel to your work day, be safe and stick with the scotch. And maybe a smoke — outside.
Our conclusion? Show Mad Men at work...during training sessions of what NOT to do in the workplace. There are many more aspects of the show that would garner the attention of Human Resources such as women not being promoted past secretary status (save a token promotion for Peggy). Although romanticized on the show, some aspects of Sterling Cooper are best left in the 1960s, especially if your company wants to avoid fines and lawsuits.

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