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5 Career Lessons From the Ladies of “Mad Men”


The critically acclaimed television series “Mad Men” captures the essence of what work life was like in the 1960s — marital affairs, mini bars in each executive’s office, smoking indoors, segregation, and gender inequalities. Over the course of the show, the women of “Mad Men” break down the barriers that confine them in the home and in the workplace. Let’s take a look at the inspiring career lessons that these courageous ladies have taught us over the years.

1. “You want to be taken seriously. Stop dressing like a little girl.” – Joan Holloway

If anyone knows how to dress the part, it’s Joan Holloway. She always seems to look well-dressed and sophisticated; even her “house clothes” are divine. A recent study conducted by psychologist Karen Pine found that “clothing doesn’t just influence others, it reflects and influences the wearer’s mood too.” In other words, when you go to work, dress in clothes that evokes a sense of happiness, power, and success … but keep it appropriate. People seem to respond more positively to a coworker who is put-together than to a coworker who is in jeans and a t-shirt. So find that happy (and comfortable) medium between your pajamas and your Sunday best and go get ’em, tiger!

2. “I said congratulations, didn’t I? Although, sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were.” – Joan Holloway

Do You Know What You're Worth?

This quote is a great reminder to dream big and not limit yourself when it comes to your life goals. Whether your dream is to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the best stay-at-home mother and wife, your aim should never be constrained by fear of failure. 

3. “Pick a job and then become the person that does it.” – Bobbie Barrett

Aim for a career that is going to be fulfilling in every sense of the word, and if the path to that career doesn’t exist, then pave a new one for others to follow. Many of the greatest companies were the “firsts” in their industries and they were wildly successful because of that reason. Not too long ago, social media was used almost entirely for people to conveniently connect online. Businesses rarely used social networking, and so jobs in the social media realm were non-existent. It wasn’t until someone recognized that there was a tremendous opportunity to utilize social media on a business level that jobs started popping up left and right for social media managers and strategists. Just because your dream job doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. If you identify a void in an industry and are confident that you can fill it, then, by all means, go for it.

4. “You’re never gonna get that corner office until you start treating Don as an equal. And no one will tell you this, but you can’t be a man. Don’t even try. Be a woman. Powerful business when done correctly.” – Bobbie Barrett

Too many women limit themselves because of their gender and believe that being assertive will result in a negative reputation in the workplace. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” she encourages women to stop “leaning back” in their careers and start taking ownership of their success. In “Mad Men,” Peggy Olson, who started out as Don Draper’s secretary and was later promoted to creative director, goes after what she wants in her career and will settle for nothing less. As Peggy’s character evolves, she becomes more confident in her abilities and begins to see herself as an equal at the agency.

5. Don: “It’s your job. I give you money. You give me ideas.”

Peggy: “But you never thank me.”

Don: “That’s what the money is for!”

Don’t expect a thank you … ever. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. If you’re always expecting a “thank you” after a job well done, then you aren’t doing it for the right reasons. Don is right when he tells Peggy, “[t]hat’s what the money is for,” because if she wasn’t doing a great job, then she wouldn’t have a job with the agency. Part of the problem with needing constant affirmation from your employer is that it shows that you aren’t confident in your abilities. Focus on what really matters, which is growing your career through hard work and perseverance. Your inevitable promotion will be “thank you” enough.

Tell Us What You Think

How have the women of “Mad Men” inspired you to break down walls in your career? Share your story on our Twitter page or in the comments section below.

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(Photo Credit: mpclemens/Flickr)

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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