What Mad Men Teaches Us About Male Leaders

It’s going to be terrible to say good-bye to Mad Men, but let’s tip our hat to all the gruesome realities of the sixties and seventies’ workplace the show has exposed us to.

Joan and Peggy may be outstanding female employees, but their journeys have been anything but smooth.

Particularly Joan, whose bumpy ride through workplace politics has reminded us of the rampant sexism back in the day.

Of course, things are exponentially better now; you certainly won’t hear words like “Honey” or “Sweetie” being thrown about in most companies with a functioning HR department. No, the issues are made up of seemingly minor micro bias that women still receive every day in the workplace.

Consider the tasks that women are often accorded with: taking notes in the meeting, planning office parties, (still) making the coffee in some places or being excluded from water cooler talk involving sports. Even something as simple as going to lunch with the guys and not even asking female colleague speaks volumes.

This exclusion sometimes extends to the C-Suite, where the numbers are proof: According to a CNNMoney analysis, only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P 500 companies are held by women. There are only 24 females CEOs in all of those 500 companies.

Why are the numbers still so dismal? This is not 1960, after all, it’s 2015.

Here are my top 5 reasons why women aren’t scaling the ranks:

  1. Male Leader Gender Fatigue: That is, the senior leadership, which is almost 90% male, looks around the company, sees a lot of women and mistakenly thinks they’re making good progress.
  2. The Belief that Women Workers are the Same as Women Leaders: This gender bias makes senior leadership think that as long as they have women in the workplace, they have achieved gender progress. They fail to recognize the roles these women are playing at work and the potential for their growth.
  3. ‘One and Done’ Mentality: Work done by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and Columbia Business School, shows that a woman’s chances of finding herself in the top five highest paid executive roles drops more than 51% if there’s already a woman in the top team. This ‘One and Done’ mentality prevents leadership from making any meaningful changes to their leadership programs to encourage other women to come up the ranks.
  4. Male Leaders Have No Accountability for Their Female Employees: Many clients I work with have stand-alone women’s high potential development programs. Routinely, they will bring women into the corporate office, give them a 360-degree feedback and personal coaching, and place them in some type of development assignment. At the end of the program, they return to the field or some remote location. What is missing is any development or accountability for the male leaders to whom these women report. The key to successful high potential programs for women is to engage their male leaders at the same time and educate men to understand and appreciate different leadership styles and behaviors.
  5. No Succession plans: If the senior leadership is not looking three or four levels down into the organization and questioning why more women are not being interviewed for manager and director positions, they are failing to fill the pipeline for the next generation of leaders. Formal succession planning at multiple levels is not solely an HR responsibility – it includes a commitment by senior leadership.

If Don Draper can look at Peggy Olson’s grit and capabilities and pull her up through the ranks, surely there’s a lesson for all of us in there. Don’s mentoring and leadership style may be full of holes, but at least he tried to do the right thing.

As for Joan – I can only hope Sunday’s episode offers her some redemption.

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country’s leading male expert on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. He is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.