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5 Ways to Manage 'Mad Men'-Era Sexual Harassment

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It is hard to believe it is almost the end of the era. I increasingly fear that Don may face the same fate as Rachel Menken Katz (may she rest in peace).

Mad Men | AMCtv

For now let's focus on one aspect from Sunday's episode of Mad Men. The conversation between Joan and Peggy and three men who work for the parent company, McCann Erickson, with regard to their client, Topaz pantyhose.

Related: The 4 Digital Advertising Trends That Are Reshaping Advertising

Joan and Peggy are trying to creatively help Topaz. Instead of their ideas being taken seriously, Joan and Peggy are sexually objectified by the McCann men. From overt innuendo about panties to references to "pairs" and brassieres towards Joan, the was anything but subtle. It was uncomfortable watching the scene. Perhaps, I felt discomfort because I know it is not simply a remnant of the ‘60s. Unfortunately things like that still happen today.

Then, in the elevator, Peggy not so subtly blames Joan for the harassment to which she was subjected. She focuses on how Joan presents herself. Sadly, again, I have seen victims of sexual harassment blamed based on how they look, walk, talk, etc. And, yes, women, at times, are as guilty as men in “blaming the victim.”

Not only is the harrassment personally painful for Peggy and Joan, but it also goes beyond them to directly affect the client. By ignoring the ideas of the women and not taking them seriously, Topaz is not provided the best services the agency has to offer. 

At the risk of sounding pedantic, the lessons of the episode remain true today. Sexual harassment not only demeans its objects, but it also hurts the business when those who are demeaned are not taken seriously. And that ultimately hurts its clients which then further hurts the business. Topaz became a 3rd party victim of the sexual harassment and gender bias.

Related: Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies

Every entrepreneur should follow these 5 “R”s in training their managers on sexual and other forms of unlawful harassment, such as race, sexual orientation (in some states) and religion.

1. Refrain from harassment and other unacceptable conduct (even if it does not rise to the legal level of harassment.) Conduct does not need to rise to the level of unlawfulness to be unacceptable.

2. Respond proactively to harassment. To see and ignore is to condone.

3. Report all complaints to HR or some designated function, even if the employee asks the supervisor not to do so. There is range of acceptable responses; the only one that is not acceptable is “nothing.”

4. Remedy harassment and inappropriate conduct (even if not lawful). Avoid legal labels so you don’t effectively create admissions that legal wrongs have been done when you try to do what is right.

5. Refrain from retaliation broadly defined by the law. Generally speaking, the fact that a complaint lacks merit does not justify adverse action. Retaliation charges were the most common charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014. 

Related: How Does the EEOC Fare in the Discrimination Wars?

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