Lessons from Mad Men #1

Ok, so I am a recent addict of the hit show Mad Men and love it.  Although, as an employment attorney I often watch with a gurgling stomach as I am bombarded with non-stop drinking and sexist, racist, homophobic language and attitudes.  While our society has come a long way from the 60’s mentality, we still have a long way to go.

In the episode I watched last night, one of the characters (Kurt from Russia) commented that he was “homosexual.”  Someone replied, “I don’t think you really know what that means.”  After Kurt left the room, another colleague replied, “I knew their kind existed, I just didn’t want to work with one.” Wow.  Fast forward to 2012. Last week I delivered sensitivity training to an executive who describes a gay male subordinate as “sister” when asking about the employee.  Really? Yes.  It’s just not funny. Even if the employee described himself that way – not cool for the manager to repeat. Manager’s often forget they are role models.

Race issues are still alive in 2012.  Back in the Mad Men days, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we know that African Americans were treated in ways that we wouldn’t treat our pets.  One of the Mad Men characters, Paul Kinsey is dating a black woman and is with her on the marches for equality down south.  Harry Crane doesn’t miss a beat and says, “why do those people (blacks) have to stir things up?” Oh, Harry.

Just this week, a federal district court jury in Buffalo, N.Y., awarded $25 million in damages to a Elijah Turley, a black steel worker who worked for Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal and claimed severe racial harassment over several years by co-workers.

Turley testified during the three-week trial that “KKK” and “King Kong” graffiti were written on the walls of the plant and a stuffed monkey with a noose around its neck was found hanging from the driver’s side mirror of his car, according to the reports. Mr. Turley said the harassment occurred between 2005 and 2008.

Take the time to remind your employees that comments, jokes, cartoons, etc, that are racist, sexist, involve any other protected characteristic are just not acceptable and will potentially violate your policy and subject the employee to some discipline.

While many who watch Mad Men will say things have gotten better since the 60’s – clearly not enough.


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