The Single Biggest Lesson After 7 Seasons of Mad Men

Don Draper is finally going away.

What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me,” he said in Episode 1, “… to sell Nylons.” The slick, successful shyster of Mad Men approaches the end of the road.

The series finale airs Sunday, May 17. For seven seasons viewers have watched the show’s lead character love and lie his way through the 60s and 70s.

Mad Men never flinched from focusing on the harsh realities of our past, including gender inequality. But are things really any better today?

Some of Mad Men’s greatest storylines explored how the women in Don’s life faced that era’s gender disparities and were able to overcome them – or not.

One such woman is Joan Holloway who used every talent she possessed to climb through the ranks and become a partner.  Recently, Joan accepted a buyout of her partnership and may use that money to start her own agency. Should that happen, she would become part of a very small minority. In the 1970s, only four percent of all American business was women owned.

Kelly Girl

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Forty-five years later, how much has changed?

As of 2014, women-owned businesses accounted for 30 percent of all privately held firms in America. That’s 9.1 million companies employing nearly 7.9 million people. And although only two percent of those companies earn more than one million annually, that still means one out of every five firms with million dollar revenues is woman owned.

TRAC Staffing, an employment service that specializes in all aspects of staffing, is part of that two percent, having passed 3.6 million in revenue at the end of 2014. Kasey Moran became the President and CEO in 2009, after serving as chief operating officer since the company was founded in 1994.

“We’re proud to be a 100% woman-owned business, but I’ve never seen it as a benefit – until recently,” said Moran. “Most of our private, for-profit clients don’t care, but the government is finally allowing staffing companies to help them with their recruiting needs. Becoming certified as a WOSB (woman-owned small business) will be a big differentiator for my company when trying to do business with the federal or state government.”

The staffing business has a complicated past when it comes to gender issues. After World War II, staffing companies came into prominence in the wake of one founded by William Russell Kelly. To avoid opposition from powerful labor unions, these companies promoted temporary staffing as “women’s work” and the Kelly Girl was born.

According to Moran, admin positions are still predominately filled by women, however the expectations of hiring companies have evolved.

“Administrative positions used to be more dependent on looks as opposed to skills and abilities. That’s changed in just the 20 years I’ve been doing this, as more women come through temp agencies with academic excellence and a valid work history on their resumes.”

However, the “women’s work” label is something the temp industry has struggled to overcome.

“We used to know that men had skills and abilities for our job openings, and we could not get them in our doors,” said Moran. “And I think that was the “Kelly Girl” persona of the temp agency. That’s a big change I’ve seen within just the last five years – the willingness of men to come into a staffing agency and apply.”

Regardless of how Mad Men ends, the role of women in business today has evolved just as dramatically as advertising and media itself.

“If you don’t like what’s being said,” according to Mr. Draper, “change the conversation.”

Women like Kasey Moran have done just that.