Why The Apprentice is bad news for women

Helen Lewis vents her frustration


I hate The Apprentice. I never feel more like jacking it all in and becoming an anarchist than I do watching some gelled foetus with a pocket square parping on about blue-sky-thinking or believing he’s god’s gift just because he runs a mildly successful telecommunications business in Crewe.

Of course, my hatred of The Apprentice doesn’t stop me watching it. Nor do all the clichés and tricks and impossible selling tasks. But this series, there might be one issue that angers me sufficiently to make me fire The Apprentice from my life. It’s the women.


In the old days, for every Katie Hopkins there was a Ruth Badger, Michelle Dewberry or Saira Khan. This year, every female candidate except Leah Totton, the doctor from Northern Ireland, seems like a Mean Girl: raising one perfectly plucked eyebrow in disdain at the world around them during the tasks, then backstabbing and bitching during the inevitable fallout in the boardroom. As a result, four women went home in the first four weeks.


There wouldn’t be a problem if there were plenty of other programmes showcasing the world of business on television. No one ever took Big Brother contestants as being representative of the general public, but with The Apprentice there’s a temptation to think: wow, I never realised everyone in business is kind of a d*ck. (As we all know, the figure is closer is 73%.)

When it comes to women, the problem is particularly acute. There are plenty of men talking about business and economics on radio and TV, and hundreds of successful businessmen who are household names, which reminds us that the male Apprentice candidates are representative only of what happens when you set out to find the most self-important men in the country.

But it’s not the same for women, who appear far less regularly on TV and radio as experts, particularly in business and economics, and comprise only 17.3% of FTSE 100 boards.

There are, of course, many success stories – but more people will know the Apprentice candidates than have heard of Joanna Shields, who is leading the government’s “Silicon Roundabout” initiative to get more high-tech businesses into London, or Helena Morrissey, who juggles being a fund manager, mother of nine and campaigner for women on boards.

Not every woman in business is a backstabber in skyscraper heels and 15lb of make-up, but you wouldn’t know that from The Apprentice. And that’s the problem – we’re only seeing one way of being a woman in that world.

Find me on Twitter @helenlewis

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