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'Don Draper' Model Of Ideal Worker Holds Women Back, Says Michelle P. King

Michelle P. King is the author of 'The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers Holding Women Back at Work.' | 4/10/2020
Michelle P. King
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Michelle P. King says the American workplace was designed for men. And, in many respects, it remains the model for corporations throughout the world. 

King is the director of inclusion at Netflix and the author of “The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work,” which explores how gender equality plays out at work.

“The actual blueprint of organizations when it comes down to our policies, practices and our personal beliefs around how organizations should work are really set up with an ideal worker in mind,” King explained to St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske. “I call that, in my book, Don Draper. Anyone who has watched ‘Mad Men’ will be familiar with the 1950s white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied male.”

King explained the Don Draper ideal — portrayed in the television series by St. Louis native Jon Hamm — holds women back.

“It’s an impossible standard for women to live up to. And the reason for that is Don Draper sets the standard for what ‘good’ looks like in corporations,” King said. “To be seen as competent, you have to engage in dominant, assertive, aggressive, competitive and even exclusionary behaviors to get ahead. 

“The problem is for women, when they do that, they defy the standards that society holds for what ‘good’ looks like for women, which is being meek, mild, unassuming and empathetic. … We need workplaces that give women the freedom to engage in a wide range of behaviors.”

Motherhood and parental leave, King said, are often afterthoughts.

During the conversation, King also discussed the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on women and the kinds of leadership styles needed now, the effects on men of the Don Draper model and more.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex HeuerEmily WoodburyEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.