It's 'catfight' time for The Apprentice

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Female candidates on The Apprentice have been criticised for representing women in business badly after last week's episode of the reality show made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In an episode which saw contestants attempt to design and market a beach-themed product, the show's female contestants were seen bickering and fighting throughout - something which undoubtedly contributed to them losing the task and being called into the boardroom to answer to Alan Sugar.

From the moment we saw footage of the all-female group sniping at each other while attempting to come up with initial product ideas, it was obvious that things weren't going to run smoothly and before long, project manager Laura Moore was in tears, claiming that she couldn't handle her team.

Despite her obvious anger at their behaviour, her fellow contestants continued to ramp up the nastiness, resulting in complete mayhem as they argued about how was responsible for the team's overall failure.

After watching the drama unfold, Lord Sugar's assistant Karren Brady stepped in to criticise the way the women were acting.

"Can I just say something? You are representing businesswomen today and I have to say that it is outrageous the way that you are behaving," she said.

"70% of my management team are women and I've never come across anything like this."

Brady was right of course - the rudeness of the contestants and their inability to respect or listen to one another made me realise immediately that in the days following the show's broadcast, commentators and newspapers would be bound to hold them up as a shining example of why female bosses are a nightmare to work for, or why women are naturally 'catty' in the workplace.

I haven't been disappointed. Liz Jones has done it, using words such as 'bitching' and 'backstabbing' for extra emphasis and proclaiming that:

"We are never going to get out of this recession if this is the best British womanhood has to offer."

She's not the only one - a brief search for news stories and blog posts about last week's episode threw up much talk of women 'letting the side down' and 'catfights'.

It's depressing because on one hand I was appalled by the contestants' behaviour, but on the other I knew the backlash against businesswomen was bound to happen and how unfair it would be.

I may not have risen as far up the career ladder as these women but I'm pretty aware of basic etiquette when it comes to talking over people and letting people have a say in decision-making. The difference between being assertive and being aggressive, you might say. But then again, I don't work in a particularly pressured environment and the show puts the contestants into extremely stressful situations.

The fact is though, when male contestants on the show act like complete losers – which they frequently do, they're not seen as representing all businessmen. Their behaviour doesn't prompt a rash of articles on why men are just so awful to work for and why they're setting a bad example to young men who want to ‘make it’.

The reaction of the public to the antics of the female Apprentice contestants underlined very clearly just how, as women, we face particular challenges when aiming for influence and power in any sphere. Very often, our actions will be held up as symptomatic of the behaviour of all women.

Most of us have probably had to deal with an unpleasant male boss at some point, but it's female executives who are usually painted as evil and scheming, the sort of people nobody wants to work for.

Since the recession hit, there has been much talk of making boardrooms more inclusive and even imposing quotas to make sure women are equally represented. Some people are vocally opposed to such actions and last week’s show is likely to add more fuel to the fire in this respect.

Interestingly, the only female contestant not part of the “girls’ team” was put in charge of the “boys’ team” and excelled as project manager. Stella English was praised by her team, who had no problems with her leadership.

Unfortunately, the male contestants did decide that as the sole woman in the group, she should don beachwear to advertise their product, resulting in a particularly uncomfortable scene where they urged her to ‘take one for the team’ and wear a bikini – as they smirked and sniggered. Some things never change.

This piece originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via BBC.


Pamela Myers said...

I am glad you wrote about this. I too saw that episode and was appalled by the screeching that arose in the boardroom. I felt embarrassed that this was the way ambitious young business women were portrayed. But lets remember this is a reality show that has television producers with a say in who was chosen to appear on the show.

I was mostly shocked by the male team led by the female pm with their sniggering and idea that she should model the product. Not to mention that wouldn't it make marketing sense that a man should model it, as women tend to be more likely to buy a product that may be intended for a man than the other way around. Or why on earth would the pm be the model, surely she can't lead the team lying down on a towel with her eyes closed.

I was sorry she didn't stick to her guns and refuse to do it. She probably felt she could be accused of not being ready to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Could you imagine that taking place in a real work situation. First a bunch of men asking their female boss to model beach accessories. And secondly, despite her blatantly saying no, going out and buying her a nice saucy outfit to wear. How can they think that is acceptable. It showed that they didn't respect her in her role of manager. And shows that they so easily, so quickly boiled her down to tall, blonde and sexy.

RedHead said...

Well said. I was waiting for the massive backlash about this, along with Katie Price's 'typical woman driver' foot-in-mouth episode. But I've managed to avoid the papers and ignore it. The trouble is, presumably these women are largely successes elsewhere, it's just a case of combustable personalities. Most of them seemed to come across well in earlier and more recent episodes, with just a few bolshy bad apples (Joanna and Paloma, I'm looking at you). I'm going to put my faith in Stella as the beacon for hard-hitting, steely businesswomen, and hope that she soon gets her revenge on those idiotic boys. And like Pamela, I'm pissed off that she caved. I guess if she hadn't, she'd have been branded 'no fun'.


i am just catching up with your blog after an AGE. i love this post. you are so right on the men not being held accountable for all men. and liz jones, don't even get me started. good post hannah x

Hannah Mudge said...

Thanks everyone!

I was sorry that Stella didn't stick to her guns as well, but like you say i'm sure she would have been branded 'humourless' and made to look like she was ruining everything if she hadn't agreed. I know what my reaction would have been, though!


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