The hit TV show Mad Men certainly hits the mark for historical entertainment but it’s a hard pill to swallow when we consider Don Draper’s attitude and behavior once mirrored reality in the workplace. Putting aside smoke filled rooms and absurd amounts of drinking, the fact remains that women in the workforce were once second class citizens at best. On the flip side, the popular TV show Scandal portrays Olivia Pope storming about Washington, DC earning the respect of every man she works for, with and against. Just a few decades have made an amazing difference in the lives of working women. So what has changed to allow the Peggys of the world to become Olivias?Just a few decades have made an amazing difference in the lives of working women
1960’s – We Were All Bewitched
Minus the whole twitchy nosed witch thing she had going on; Samantha was the embodiment of the typical stay at home wife and mother of the time. The kids were clean, well-behaved and took more than the usual number of naps and dinner was never off-schedule. Yet culturally, women were beginning to demand equal rights in both racial and gender roles. The desire to participate in a life beyond the home was growing. Working outside the home wasn’t new by any means. After all, the two world wars put women in the workplace in large numbers but upon war’s end, they typically returned home. The rebellion against the established norm in the 1960s, simply added fuel to a fire that was already burning.
1970’s Mary Tyler Moore – Need I Say More?
In the very next decade, Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore show captured the imaginations of women across the country. Suddenly every young lady wanted to be a television journalist. And why not? Besides an incredible career, success brought fame and with fame, the ability to influence change for others. While the workplace in the 70’s still had more than its reasonable share of crusty Lou Grants, it was definitely a decade for rising numbers of successful women. They were entering the workforce in larger numbers but not so much as secretaries and girl-Fridays.
Women began to expect work in real careers with opportunity for growth and advancement. While the affable and often bewildered Murray Slaughters looked on, women reached for the top of the corporate ladder. It was in this decade, human resources departments began rewriting the office procedure manuals. New topics covered a myriad of issues, including what is and isn’t appropriate conversation and behavior toward the opposite sex. Yes, women were certainly influencing the workplace and culture.
1980’s – The Cosby Show
By 1980, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of England and respected on a global level. Women began to find their political voice could carry elections from local to national levels, thus continuing the influence in the workplace for women everywhere. Even though the US has yet to elect a female as President, or even Vice, the opportunity to do so isn’t inconceivable. Like Clair Huxtable in The Cosby Show, the 1980’s woman wanted it all; husband, family, home and career. Clair, both mom and successful attorney, made it look easy with her high level of intelligence and energy. She managed the household, kids and frequent dinners on the table without missing a single deposition! Of course it helps when kids generally behave with nothing more complicated than witty parental humor and a hug. Realising the complications, women rose to the challenge of career and family and saw no viable reason to forego either.
1990’s – The Flood Gates Have Opened
By the 1990s, seeing powerful women grace our television screens is nothing unusual. From Who’s the Boss to ER, there is little question women have changed the game. Nobody was surprised anymore when a woman was named CEO or COO of any company. Tools for time management and working smarter helped women achieve and maintain their goal of having it all. The number of women in top positions may still have been smaller in comparison to the number in workforce but they were certainly making their mark. Powerful journalist like Barbara Walters had women in every industry aiming to shatter the glass ceiling.Powerful journalist like Barbara Walters had women in every industry aiming to shatter the glass ceiling
2000’s – Chicken or the Egg?
In TV shows today, as well as in reality, there’s little evidence left of decades past resistance to put women in charge. In fact, recent surveys show women tend to be better leaders than men over and over again. The same men who might have frowned at the idea of a female supervisor in the 70’s didn’t even blink in the 90’s if the boss wore heels. So what made the difference? Did media, including popular TV shows, urge us on toward workplace success or did it simply reflect what was happening decade by decade? I’d say it was both and because of changes in attitude, women, without question, have equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind having Samantha’s magic nose combined with Mary’s tenacity, Clair’s wit and Olivia’s attitude. Talk about having it all!
Leah is the Director of Search & Social at seoWorks, a leading digital marketing agency in Sydney, Australia. As a female success story in her own right, Leah has worked hard to climb her way up the corporate ladder. When she’s not shattering her own glass ceilings, Leah can be found sipping a glass of Chardonnay at the beach or chasing her rambunctious Wolfdog, Simba. Follow Leah on Twitter, @LeahRise or Google+ for her latest writings and ramblings.