As an HR blogger, it is serendipitous to be able to watch the series finale of Mad Men and then attend the Reinvent Work Summit in the same week.
I don’t need to assert a theory that the workplace has changed over 55 years. The change has been highly visible.
When I was a little girl, I was invited to attend my father’s “take your kids to work” day. I remember walking in the factory filled with men and being told not to touch anything. I remember seeing all the component parts of a vehicle and realizing that someone had to assemble them. I remember the paneling in his office. It was a man’s world, but I was undeterred by that.
But that was the 1970’s, just beyond the glory days of Don Draper. By then some things had already changed. I had Wonder Woman as a role model, and a desire to be career-oriented.
Certainly today our workplaces are less sexist, less racist, and less anti-semitic than the 1960s. How we got here is a bit of a chicken and egg question though. While I won’t underplay the importance of the civil rights movement, in part, the kinder, gentler workplace is an economic necessity. With time, we learned that an economy with higher participation grows at a faster rate, has more spending power, and more elasticity. It requires less money for war. And computers have helped us split the demographics and figure out how to sell more to a broader audience. The identification of what came first will be the subject of debate for centuries to come.
I wonder what I will learn today at the Reinvent Work Summit. Lately I have been engaged in regular dialogue about the Google workplace, where you build what you want and the money comes later. A world where the workplace is flexible and silly rules are banished. As much as I like this concept, I still have trouble trying to make it work.
But that’s where Mad Men is helpful. It shows the fits and starts, the giant leaps and the about faces. It shows that the path to change is not a straight line.
Back in my childhood, there was a day at school where we talked about the future workplace, and I vividly remember being shown a picture of a woman at a large console pushing buttons. There was no explanation as to what the buttons did or what this work actually entailed. I remember liking the idea of working from home in a room designed for working. Later, I remember when our wireless network was installed in the house and being able to return e-mail from the patio. Not so long ago, my laptop became my phone and someone can call my office and talk to me wherever I happen to be. Someday I will be able to teleport myself to whatever meeting I need to attend. I wonder what things will be the links that get us there.
Let’s see where this goes.