Don Draper and Sterling Cooper might embody a stereotypical definition of manliness as advertising powerhouses on Mad Men—but it’s women who comprised nearly half the AMC drama’s writers’ room.
Semi Challas (who also co-executive produces the series) runs an 11-person writing team that includes veterans Janet Leahy and Lisa Albert, as well as newcomers Carly Wray and Erin Levy. It’s a Hollywood rarity for a primetime television show to boast five female writers with a group Mad Men‘s size, especially since only 25 percent of all TV writers were female in the 2013-14 primetimes season, Fortune reports.
“It’s a crime to not have people that look like everyone,” Mad Men creator Matt Weiner said during a recent panel at New York’s 92Y. “But I just picked the people I liked, and I can tell you right now that sexism is very common. You know how many emails I get, ‘We’re looking for our female writer’? It’s a diversity issue.”
The women on Weiner’s writing team said he encouraged them to seek inspiration from their personal experiences. “I pitched a few stories about my workplace and my boss when I was an office assistant. They sort of translate whether it was 1960 or 1980 or today,” Wray, a staff writer, told Fortune. “The show takes place in the 1960s, but so much is about today. It’s just a lens through which you’re seeing these stories that happen everyday in everybody’s lives.”
Still, Mad Men writer and executive producer Leahy said she has had to stick up for her ideas before. “We always had to be able to defend our point-of-view in terms of the universals and emotions,” Leahy said. “A lot are feminine-based, not out of feminism but because they’re really good stories that haven’t been told.”
As result, Challas understands there’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to women’s presence in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood. “It’s very palpable that there are many fewer women directors and writers out there,” she told the magazine. “I think that definitely that imbalance has an effect.”
Head to Fortune for more on the five women who have been penned many Mad Men scripts over the course of the show’s seven seasons.