For many families across the UK, a new series of the BBC’s The Apprentice marks both the drawing in of dark winter nights, and a chance to revel in the antics of the typically pompous and often overly-confident candidates fighting for Lord Sugar’s investment. Those watching this year might have noticed a particularly awkward moment during the first episode. Whilst considering Canary Wharf as a location fit for selling her team’s homemade burgers, candidate Sibohan Smith addressed the group with a strategy for selling.
Smith: “Our customers in Canary Wharf are going to be male-dominated, so that’s something to take into consideration when you choose who you want to be selling the burgers, so it’s got to be attractive to him as well. He’s got to want to buy it.”
Met by a bemused silence from the rest of the group, Lord Sugar’s aide Karren Brady questioned Smith. “What do you mean about attractive?”
Siobhan Smith (Photo Credit: The Express)
Although for many viewers at home, squirming in their sitting rooms, Brady’s resolute questioning made for a classic The Apprentice moment, others were left incredulous at Smith’s suggestion. Picking the pretty girls to sell? That kind of business acumen is to be expected from Mad Men-style dramas set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, not from a reality show in 2017. At the very least it ought to be long-gone from the minds of businesswomen themselves. Viewers were exposed to yet more sexism in the following episode, this time from the boys’ team. As his team set about refurbishing a hotel room, one candidate declared, “I don’t want to sound sexist, but when we heard ‘painting and decorating’, we all knew we’d get this one.” The boys’ team went on to lose the task.
Joan Holloway, a woman of the 1960’s corporate world in Mad Men (Photo Credit: The Telegraph)
Sexism in The Apprentice, from both male and female candidates, is worrying. In a competition based solely on getting a foot-up in the corporate world, such attitudes amongst young business hopefuls indicate regression. Despite a growing awareness of occupational sexism in recent decades, seemingly casual comments (as seen in The Apprentice) suggest that women in the workplace are not out of the woods yet. According to a poll carried out by the ‘people management’ company Investors in People, 83% of women in full time employment believe gender discrimination is still present in the workplace, and 45% of women feel they have personally experienced discrimination at work because of their gender. Furthermore, the pay-gap remains large and looming – women are earning on average 19% less than men an hour. Sexism in the corporate world negatively affects men too: 60% of employees believe it is unusual for men to take more than two weeks’ paternity leave.
While the above statistics remain alarmingly high, there are signs which show that corporate sexism is on the way out. The rise of awards established exclusively for female businesswomen, which recognise and celebrate the achievements of women in the corporate world, can only help to inspire young women who possess a zeal for business. Organisations such as the Women in Business Network offer opportunities for women to network and support each other through collaboration. Such organisations might seem commonplace today, but during the twentieth century would no doubt have been ridiculed or dismissed as unnecessary. Gender discrimination against men in the corporate world is finally being recognised as a worthy issue; in the lead up to the snap election in May both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties pledged in their manifestos that men should be entitled to at least a month’s maternity leave.
Most people are aware of corporate sexism, but it is only through discussing such issues that we can hope for change. Although there have been considerable steps forward towards tackling gender discrimination in the workplace, for many it remains an everyday reality. Women are still judged for their ‘office appearance’, or derided by fellow workers for their ‘bossy’ approach in meetings. Hopefully, with the arrival of a new generation of workers, sexist behaviour in the corporate world will soon become a thing of the past. However, such a goal can only be achieved if the issue of corporate sexism is tackled head on, by both men and women in the workplace.