Gender Equity

Spoiler Alert: Women in the ‘Mad Men’ Workplace

April 3, 2013  • Aaron Myers

Fans of TV’s Mad Men know the fictional advertising firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is modeled on the realities of 1960s Madison Avenue. Workplace drinking, sex, and gender roles will surely return as key plot elements when the sixth season of Mad Men premieres this weekend.

But just how real is the retro television show? That was the question posed to one of advertising’s top women at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival (during the long break between Mad Men seasons).

Shelly Lazarus is chairman emeritus and former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather. “One of the things that Mad Men nailed is the role of women,” Lazarus told an Aspen audience in July.

Martinis were abundant. Men filled the conference rooms. Women started as secretaries.

“Most of the products we were selling were products that were directed to women,” noted Lazarus. In this short video clip, she shares the story of a male creative director’s memorably terrible pitch for Kotex. It’s a line you’ll want to hear.

The ad agency workplace has certainly changed.

Speaking as an executive, Shelly Lazarus described modern challenges faced by brands that adopt social media, micro-target consumers, and address privacy concerns. Does gender play a role in the contemporary ad world? Can women “have it all”? Watch the full video of her conversation from the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival (45 minutes).