Leaning In with the Women of Mad Men

mm31Like many rabid Mad Men fans, I’ve been pre-gaming for the April 7 kickoff of Season 6 by re-watching Season 5. And, like many of my girlfriends, I’ve also been reading and thinking about Lean In, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new playbook for professional women. In Sandberg’s view, the office playing field hasn’t leveled off nearly enough for women in the 40-plus years since Mad Men heroines Peggy Olson and Joan Harris were the female standard bearers at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – and, Sandberg asserts, instead of whining that the game is (still) rigged, today’s women simply need to “lean in” harder. Watching Mad Men has given me a new appreciation for how hard Peggy and Joan had to lean in back in their day, and reading Sandberg’s book has given me a new lens through which to view their actions.

So, let’s listen in on a “Lean In Circle” facilitated by author Sheryl Sandberg, as Peggy and Joan relate their progress moving the ball down the career field. The circle’s meeting takes place immediately following Episode 11 of Season 5 (“The Other Woman”).

SHERYL (to PEGGY): So, let me get this straight: your boss, Don Draper, threw a fistful of dollar bills in your face after you leaned in to ask him to replace Ginsburg on the Chevalier Blanc account?

anigif_enhanced-buzz-6238-1362966559-1_previewPEGGY (wincing): Yes, that’s right. It was humiliating, especially after I’d just saved the account with some quick thinking during a conference call. But I stayed strong, and I didn’t cry in front of Don – or in front of Ken Cosgrove, who followed me into my office, assuming I’d be a puddle, and that I’d want to hear his knight in shining armor routine again. Give me a break.

CIRCLE MEMBERS: Finger snaps of approval. Joan’s snaps are especially vigorous.

SHERYL (shrugging): Well, I cried at Google, and I cried at Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg gave me a hug, and I felt so much closer to him afterward – but I guess I’ve been lucky to have had such great male mentors. Tell us what you did next.

PEGGY: I went to lunch with Freddy Rumsen – you remember him, the older copywriter with the drinking problem who had to take a leave of absence after he fell asleep at work and peed his pants? Anyway, when I told Freddy about how Don threw the money at me, he just shrugged, and said, “I can never tell, ballerina, if you’re ambitious or you just want to complain.”

SHERYL (shaking her head): That reminds me of when I was a summer intern on Capitol Hill, and the Speaker of the House patted me on the head and asked if I was a pom-pom girl! Anyway, go on.

0511PeggyFreddy1PEGGY : We talked some more – after I bought him a piece of pie – and Freddy said: “If this was about work and not about feelings, you’d make a move…You’d get to find out if you can shine elsewhere….Don would tell you to leave in a second.”

SHERYL (shaking her head): We women think we have to suppress our emotions at work, but authentic leaders aren’t afraid to show their feelings. You know, I was on the board of Starbucks when the company hit a rough patch, and Howard Schultz got teary when he said he’d let us down. We respected him even more for being authentic.

PEGGY : It’s just that I’ve never worked anywhere but Sterling Cooper. Maybe I’ve just been lucky to be part of a great creative team. Don’s so brilliant and all.…

SHERYL (holding up her hand): Stop right there. Ladies, we have a tendency to attribute our success to external factors, like being lucky or getting help from others — though, God knows, I’ve been both. Men don’t do that. Peggy, please go on.

PEGGY : So, Freddy put in a good word with his friend at Cutler Gleason and Chaough – you know, the agency that has the Clearasil account I used to work on? And then Freddy’s friend invited me out to lunch.

SHERYL (smiling): Great networking. Tell us about your lunch. I hope he took you someplace nice. La Caravelle, maybe?

PEGGY : No, I didn’t want to bump into anyone we knew, so we met at this dive diner, where the food is horrible. I was too nervous to eat anyway, and all his flattery about the great creative work in my book made me a little uncomfortable…I mean, like I told him, I’ve always had a lot of help —

SHERYL (cutting Peggy off): Stop. There you go again, doubting your own talent. One of our biggest challenges as women is learning to accept, not deflect, the compliments we rightly receive for our success. Remember, men get promoted based on their potential, but women are judged on our past accomplishments. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.

PEGGY : I know, I know. So, then he cut right to the chase and asked me how much I wanted to get paid. But I was totally prepared, because Freddy had taught me the trick of writing my salary goal on a slip of paper and passing it across the table. He crossed out my number and offered me almost five percent more than I’d asked, on the condition that I accept his offer on the spot, and not play games. So I did. Because it’s not a game, it’s my career, right?

SHERYL (sighing): But negotiating a raise and a promotion are a game, Peggy. You didn’t have to accept his first offer, or his conditions – but, then, I did the same thing at Facebook, and my husband and my brother-in-law both told me I was crazy to accept Mark’s first offer.

Elisabeth Moss in MAD MEN - Season 5 - "The Other Woman" | ©201PEGGY (puzzled, then resolute): I know, but at first, I just wanted to show Don that he can’t get away with treating me like I’m just some secretary from Brooklyn who’s just dying to help out. Initially I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I wanted to leave Sterling Cooper. But after I told Don I was resigning, and he admitted he’d been taking me for granted and said I’d finally picked the right time to ask for a raise – and he kissed my hand….Well, that’s when I realized things would never really change for me at Sterling Cooper, and that I needed to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could shine outside Don’s orbit. And you know what? When I walked out that day, I felt such a tremendous weight off my shoulders. The elevator door opened, and I heard that new song by The Kinks, “You Really Got Me,” and I knew I had the upper hand and was finally in control of my own future.

CIRCLE MEMBERS: Finger snaps of approval. Joan looks wistful, a mix of envy and admiration for Peggy.

SHERYL (beaming): We’re proud of you, Peggy. You leaned into a tough situation and came out a winner. Ladies, I hope you’ve been taking notes and can apply some of this to your own career challenges. Now, let’s hear from Joan. I gather she has some big news to share with us, too.

MAD-MEN-Season-5-The-Other-Woman-HendricksJOAN (preening a bit): Yes, I do. Last week Sterling Cooper made me a partner.

CIRCLE MEMBERS: Finger snaps of approval. Peggy looks skeptical.

SHERYL: Wow! That’s super! You must have leaned in very hard to make that happen.

JOAN (blushing): Yes, it’s a little awkward to talk about – what I tell you all can never leave this room –

SHERYL (holding up her hand): Ladies, remember this is a circle of trust. Go ahead, Joan.

JOAN: I leaned in and struck a bargain with the partners that if I helped them with the Jaguar account, they would make me a five-percent partner – and not a silent partner, either.

CIRCLE MEMBERS: More snaps. Peggy looks baffled.

SHERYL: Super! How did you pull that off?

Mad-Men-Season-5-40JOAN (after a long pause): I, um, slept with the head of the Jaguar dealer association. I figured Pete and Lane were right: it was only one night of my life, and even a five-percent share of the firm’s income will amply provide for me and my baby since I’m going to be a single mom soon.

CIRCLE MEMBERS: Dubious looks, unsure of whether to snap or not. Peggy sighs deeply.

SHERYL (stunned): Well, gosh….I’ve got to get home to tuck my daughters into bed – and I hear my husband did some laundry today, so…. But I can’t wait to continue this conversation at our next circle meeting. Thank you, Peggy and Joan for sharing tonight.

SHERYL and the CIRCLE MEMBERS gather up their coats and bags and leave without lingering for the usual post-circle chitchat. Joan and Peggy stay behind.

JOAN: (shaking her head): She has no idea what it’s really like.

PEGGY: I know, really.

JOAN: Hey, don’t be a stranger.

PEGGY: I won’t, don’t worry.

They hug and walk out arm in arm.

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