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Survey reveals "Mad Men" misogyny lives on in advertising

The advertising business of the 1950s and 1960s was depicted as highly misogynistic in the New York-based period drama 'Mad Men," and fans of the highly rated show may be shocked to learn that sexual harassment still appears to be a major problem for the industry. The American Association of Advertising Agencies asked about 400 female advertising employees about their workplace experiences, and more than half of them said that they felt at least somewhat vulnerable to unfair treatment.

A third of those polled said that they had been passed over because of their gender, and 40 percent said that being a woman had led to them being excluded from the decision-making process. The women surveyed by the trade group ranged from senior executives to midlevel managers, and more than half of them said that they had been subjected to some sort of sexual harassment at least once during their careers. The results of the 4A study were published in summary form on Aug. 11.

The survey came less than two weeks after the executive chairman of one of the world's largest advertising agencies dismissed claims of rampant sexual harassment and blamed the dearth of senior female executives on lack of ambition, and a representative of the trade group admitted that the statement encouraged them to publish its results earlier than it had intended. The industry has also been rocked by a series of sexual harassment lawsuits.

Both the results of the survey and the statement made by the senior advertising executive reveal the daunting challenges faced by women in the workplace. Women who are treated unfairly at work or are subjected to lewd or inappropriate behavior have legal options available to them, but they are sometimes reluctant to step forward. Experienced employment law attorneys could explain these legal options as well as assess the merits of a potential sexual harassment claim, and they could also point out the severe penalties that employers could face for taking retaliatory action against workers who raise these issues.

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