Is Business Getting Girly? Don Draper Reports

Some things were just meant to be

As a rule I'm a 'never-before-noon' man. But one morning recently there it was, on top of the spread of magazines laid out for me on my desk. Cover story of The Atlantic Monthly, the magazine founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson and some cronies over a few drinks at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in 1857. Four words. "The End Of Men."

I glanced at the clock — 11:15. But I picked up the ice tongs anyway, put two cubes in an old-fashioned glass and drowned them in three fingers of Chivas. I broke the filter tip off a fresh Marlboro, put the business end between my lips, rolled the wheel on my Zippo, and settled back in the Eames chair. I started thinking. Thinking hard.

I should have seen it coming. The Pill, Title IX, The MBA degree. Wake up, Don. Promoting Peggy Olson was like unleashing a typhoon — Pandora's Box. I guess I missed the train, the one from Ayn Rand's thrusting spires to Gloria Steinem's G Spot. Is that G for Gloria, by the way? This country was built by The Salesman, dammit, one lousy skyscraper at a time. I called my secretary in.

Ms. Strawberri Fields

"Strawberri," I said, "I hope you don't mind me being personal. But why do you need to work these 'flexible hours'?"

"We adopted a little boy, Mr. Draper," she said, "from Somalia."

"Really", I said. "And what does your husband do?"

"My partner works for Lufthansa, she's a pilot. "

"Oh. I see. Well, ah, I need to read my emails — print them up please?"

I scanned the Atlantic article:

... the post-industrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength ... social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus are not predominantly male … women hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs ... 54 percent of all accountants ... half of all banking and insurance jobs ... a third of America’s physicians ... 45 percent of associates in a law firm ... and rising ...

I thought of Meg Whitman. Hell, I knew that girl when she was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble — now she's running for Governor of California. And you can take it from me, she won't be settling down in Sacramento. The house she's really hunting for is on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia. The white one.

Nothing gets your whites whiter than family values

I added a splash of Chivas and pulled The Economist from the stack:

... IBM among a growing band offering financial incentives to encourage weight loss ... PricewaterhouseCoopers provides massage and yoga ... treadmills during meetings ... more than half of America's larger companies offer advice on stopping smoking ... more than a third have gyms ... rechristened canteens "nutrition centers"...

Now, look. I've got nothing against a massage during work hours — I pay the occasional afternoon visit to the Lotus Blossom Realm Of Happiness on 38th Street myself. But when did business stop being Daddy and start being Mommy? I replayed this morning's meeting in my mind — what was it that account supervisor had said...?

"Baked into this brief we're sharing with you is the notion that our kitchen towel won't just satisfy our various psychographic pods, but delight them. That's key. The planners say it's a bedtime story — we need to take the target by the hand and whisper that it's all going to be OK. Better than OK — joyful. We've reached out to Media for some out-of-the-box thinking on this narrative."

Baking? Sharing? Delighting? Whispering? Bedtime stories? Joyful? I lit a cigarette with the one I was finishing. Reaching out to Media? In this age of the Interweb, that would be like offering up your fingers to a starved dog.

Is it feeding time?

It got worse. Next, an article on business guru Daniel Pink:

"There is lots of evidence that people with more androgynous minds that can reason both in a typically 'left-brain', masculine way and a typically 'right-brain', feminine way have a comparative advantage in the modern economy. I think that a lot of the abilities that are often dismissed as 'feminine' or 'soft'—things like empathy, to some extent even creativity itself—are more valuable nowadays, and that might confer a slight advantage on women."

I called in our expensive new art director, Kevin.

Mr. Kevin Zimnowski

"Kevin", I said, "I understand you shave your legs."

"I shave it all, Don."

"Is that for the competitive cycling?"

"It's about grooming. I don't race bikes."

"What do you think about all this networking? 24-hour gossip? Captains Of Industry making little tweets?"

"I don't do Twitter, Don. Too bridge-and-tunnel."

"Think you'd like a woman running things, Kevin?"

"Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir maybe. Not Margaret Thatcher."

Only, there's no safe word

I switched to Gordon's and told Strawberri to get me Graham Button on the line over at Genesis. This is their kind of thing.

"Hi Don, how's the agency game?"

"Walking in tall cotton. You?"

"Tectonic plates are shifting. Exciting times."

"Listen, Graham — are men finished?"

"Three women will get a degree this year for every two men. If you want to see into the future I'd suggest you find out what makes those three women tick."

"So I should look into college-age women?"

"Well, in your case maybe delegate that? Meantime pick up a copy of Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. That's the view from orbit."

"We should hit the Lotus Blossom one of these days — for old times' sake."

"Heard a joke about you the other day Don. Sure, the square root of Chuck Norris is pain — but Don Draper smokes mathematics."

"That's funny."

"I don't hear you laughing."

"Not in my character, Graham."


Graham Button is a partner at Genesis, a brand, strategy and communications consultancy based in Denver. He is a writer from London who has spent more than 25 years in the advertising world, working for agencies in Hong Kong, Toronto and finally New York, where he was a creative director and executive vice president at Grey Worldwide. Graham has created brand platforms for companies as diverse as global beverage giant Diageo (managing a stable of brands including Captain Morgan Rums), Kaiser Permanente Health Plans, Colorado's Frontier Airlines, and Asian publisher South China Morning Post Newspapers. His work has won many awards internationally. Graham still creates work as a managing partner and creative director on Vail Resorts' flagship brands Vail and Beaver Creek. But he is equally at home in his role as strategist and planner.

[Photograph courtesy of TLC (Kat von D); flickr/Javier Prazak (dog)]

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5 Comments

  • Rachel Kaberon

    Pleased to see that "creative" still means something in the agency world! This is one of the rare pieces I've seen in Fast Company that really lives up to its reputation. Thanks Graham, and heads off to your editor...look forward to reading more ..not necessarily by or about Don Draper, but in this vein of shared experience made real with scintillating transportive prose, graphics !

  • Robert Ezekiel

    freakin hysterical. best laugh I have had all day. Lighting up a Winston right now at my desk and pouring some glenmorangie neat

  • adam kruvand

    Nice writing. This is why Fast Co is the only biz mag left worth reading. Thanks for being creative. WWDDD?