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May 18th, 2011

The Sorcerer’s Apprentess By Jane Renton

By admin

It’s early days, but The Apprentice is already all over the television schedules.  Like old skool Big Brother this is the stuff of a lonely water cooler’s dreams.  Did business psychologist – yes, psychologist – Edna Agbarha really say ‘Weak people in business are a waste of space and a limp handshake is unforgiveable?’ More to the point, did she really mean to be defined by it in the unforgiving popular media? And is it necessary for Edward Hunter to ‘Roll with the punches’ to the point he rolls through the boardroom and straight into a taxi?  Of course it is – because The Apprentice, just like BB, is as much about a protracted business interview or a ‘social experiment,’ as Eastenders is about everyday East End folk.

With the new opening premise shifted slightly – ‘I’m looking for a business partner,’ announces Lord Sugar. ‘Think of it as an uncivil partnership’ the teams are off.  It is the best entertainment.  The unbelievable strap lines – best showcased by last year’s Stuart – ‘Everything I touch turns to sold’ Baggs – are openly provocative.  More to the point, the teams formed to compete against each other are teams in (hyperbolic) name only.  There’s no ‘I’ in team should more accurately be there’s no ‘team’ in I. The teams are out to win largely because they individually fear the public humiliation of losing.  The resulting frenzy fries their brains and skews their judgment hilariously for task and boardroom meltdowns – ‘I’m the youngest guy on the competition,’ says Edward in Week 1- ‘and the shortest.’ Not the most convincing defence.

In Sir Alan Sugar’s phallocracy, there is no place for the traditionally diffident ‘female’ attributes of discreet team building, empathy and support.  Pity Alex – fired for being a ‘passenger,’ his chief criticism over the soup task was that he was a total sissy who had cut the bread and kept the kitchen ticking over  whilst the others sold, sold, SOLD!  Sir Alan’s likes women, but they have to be tough-working not prissy-middle class women.  The kind of women who roll their sleeves up, leave their babies at the door and get stuck in.  I’ll slice – you butter….

“Women get on with things and don’t waste time spelling out how good they are. That’s a man’s trait”

So far, and with two wins under their bang-on-trend belts, this certainly seems to be the case for Venture.  Not feeling the need to fist pump seems to be a pretty good indicator of potential task success. In fact, it is the man with the most ‘female’ traits of communication and conflict resolution – Jim – who is currently the hot favourite amongst the boys. At 15/2 – ironically with Paddy Power – he is only preceded at 13/2 by Melody Hossaini who has performed faultlessly in both her tasks.

Historically, it is always the girls that endure. A pan cultural parade including the homely looking ‘Badger,’ relentless Saira Khan, icy Katy Hopkins, dagger eyed Debra? The list goes on and they stand out because they are alpha females who get things done.  In a mixed team, the alpha females are faultless in their management of male team members, while dispassionately excising female dissenters. The female of the species is equally as deadly to the female as she is to the male, and this is not the degradation of traditional female friendships that some commentators have made it out to be.  Women really don’t have to be empathetic groomers and nurturers. To criticise them for successful ambition is as lame as it is insulting to say they are ‘manning up.’  Put simply, the process of The Apprentice shows repeatedly that women in business are more successful because they are women, and not because they impersonate men.  To do so would be pointless – they always lose.

The Apprentice is on Wednesday 9pm BBC1

Jane Renton is a thirtysomething writer and mother of three children with disabilities. Follow Jane on twitter/@rentonifyable

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