There are two female characters whom the show follows through their workplace journeys over the course of its entire seven season run. There’s Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy, who begins the show as a naive young secretary and works her way up to being a chief copywriter, as well as Christina Hendricks’ Joan, who begins as the office manager and eventually becomes a partner at the firm.
While these two characters do manage to become successful in their careers, they incur many costs along the way. Peggy faces sexism throughout her journey, whether being preyed on by male executives as a secretary or not having her work taken seriously as a copywriter. Even through the end of the series, it’s clear that certain men are just never going to be able to respect her as a colleague.
As for Joan, she has an affair with and eventually bears the child of one of the firm’s partners, and she’s only eventually able to reach partner status by sleeping with a client. Weiner discussed this in a 2017 interview with The Daily Beast, saying, “The fact that she’s being compromised, or expressing ambition, or all of those things, on some level … to me there’s a horrible reality in this entire situation is that it ends up being a career-changing moment for her.”
The idea that a woman who sought power and success in business back then would have to do unsavory things is a dark one, but one that likely holds truth; unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to reach the top through hard work and diligence.