Sleeping With the Boss

Joan Harris Mad Men Season 5
Actor Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris

I’ll admit it – I’m a maddict. “Maddict” is the term that some sarcastic journalists have given to the die-hard, take no prisoners fans of the TV show Mad Men. “Like bordering on Trekkie.”

One of the many – and there ARE many – reasons I love this show is that it makes me think a lot about women in the workforce and their struggles. Some people dismiss those struggles as historical issues, because the show takes place in the 1960’s. But to believe that things are so different now is to deny that women still fight to overcome traditional attitudes about their abilities and suitability for the upper echelons of business.

Last season (“The Other Woman”, Season 5), one of the female characters was asked to sleep with a potential client in order to help her advertising firm land a lucrative account for Jaguar.  The character, Joan Holloway Harris, is the Director of Agency Operations at the ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a title given to her for a lot of extra work, but with no additional pay, recognition, or reduction of her secretarial duties.

So despite her initial protestations that she was being asked to prostitute herself, Joan ultimately agreed to sleep with the client in exchange for a 5% voting partnership in the agency. She agreed because her marriage was crumbling, she had a young child to support, and she had been unsuccessful in her efforts to break free of the female chains that bound her to a continually subservient position at work, even though she had repeatedly demonstrated her business smarts and talent.

Initially, I was shocked. I didn’t believe the character Joan (one of my two favorites on the whole show) would have made that decision, and I was terribly judgmental about her sleeping with the ultimate boss – the client. In fact, Joan had already slept with one of the partners (Roger Sterling, father of her baby) with absolutely no positive impact on her career.

“Where’s her self-esteem?” I cried. “How could she possibly do this to herself?”

But the more I thought about her situation – it aired in May 2012 so I have been thinking a long time – I thought “who am I to judge this woman?”

This was not a case of sexual harassment, where negative employment consequences were going to rain down on her if she didn’t consent, presenting her with a false choice. Her career was already suffering because simply she was a female. Joan chose to use the best advantage she had to further a stalled career. She chose to do with her own body what she thought was best for her.

This was not a case of rape, like the recent Steubenville case where a teenaged girl did not have enough physical and mental capacity to consent, or make a choice.

If I believe that a woman has the right to make a choice NOT to use her sexuality and to maintain control over her own body, then I must – MUST – believe that she has the right to do the opposite. If I believe in the right of a woman to control her own body and have an abortion, then I must give her the right to control her body to sleep with her boss if she wants to, for whatever her reasons. I will feel sad for our working women that are still confronted with the sexism that makes these choices necessary, but I will no longer judge the woman for doing what she thinks it takes.

Her body, her choice.

It’s not a lot different than landing a job because your partner is in a position to influence the person doing the hiring. I went to work for my husband’s company, so I guess I got a job because I slept with the boss.

I was a good hire for my employer and good at my job – so who should care?

Not you.




The Customer Isn’t Always Right

I gave this jar to my partner as a gift once, because he was responsible for customer complaints.
I gave this jar to my partner as a gift once, because he was responsible for customer complaints.


Back in my uniformed police officer days, I once responded to a call at a home our department had visited many, many times. The calls were always of the neighbor/family/kid trouble kind, and the woman who called was often unreasonable and irrational.

I was walking up the driveway alone, because our department was a small one, and working in a double car – two officers – was rare. As I approached the house, the occupant came out her front door and onto the porch. She pointed her finger at me and yelled, “NO! I want a real cop here!”

I stopped and said, “Ma’am. I am a real police officer. If you don’t want ME here, then I presume you don’t need the services of the police.” She continued yelling that she wanted someone “real”, so I returned to my patrol car. I radioed into the dispatcher that the caller didn’t want my services. Then I left.

You may be able to guess what happened next. The woman had apparently called the station and spoken with a supervisor, and another police officer – a male – was sent to take the call instead.

I was livid.

I thought – and think to this day – that she should have been told that a competent, sworn police officer was available to handle her complaint, that she didn’t have the right to choose on the basis of sex, and that no other officer should have been dispatched.

I was recently reminded of this incident after reading about a Flint, MI hospital that allegedly granted a new father’s request that his baby not be looked after by any African-American nurses, one nurse in particular. There is some dispute about whether the father’s request was actually granted, but one statement from the hospital CEO said, “We regret that our policies were not well enough understood and followed . . .” I don’t think this statement leaves much doubt that the nurse in question was somehow prevented from doing her job for this white baby.

HR writers and thinkers – including me – implore HR to have a larger sense of the business that employs them, including an increased awareness of and attendance to the customers that fund them and their departments. But cases like mine, and the hospital in Flint, should serve as a cautionary tale to be sensible about what the customer is asking the employees to do. HR managers should train their employees to managers to ask one simple question:

 Is the customer’s request reasonable and non-discriminatory to the employee?

If the answer is NO, tell the customer to take a hike.


(Do you have any stories of unreasonable or crazy customer service requests? Share them in the comments.)