Females in the firing line: What's going on in The Apprentice? What can women in business learn from it?


Frances Dickens, a guest on The Apprentice You’re Fired, wonders what has gone wrong for the women in this year’s programme

Sugar pointing women

You, you’re fired.

“You’re just like an irritating wasp at a picnic” Charleine Wain’s classic put down of fellow contestant Selina Waterman-Smith highlights why series 11 is the best yet. Thursday’s episode didn’t disappoint with Scott Saunders effectively telling Lord Sugar “You’re Fired” and Selina exiting the show.  

Yet watching the series as a female CEO, I’ve had my head in my hands for much of this season. What’s going on with the women? With just Vana Koutsomitis and Charleine left as we head towards the finish line, we’ve been treated to behaviours that have ranged from catty to chaotic. On occasion it’s like watching The Secret Life of Five Year Olds.

Things didn’t start well in the early weeks when the all-female team lost two challenges in a row. The women were swiftly taking out their frustrations on each other, with the insults flying despite Vana’s promise of ‘no cattiness’ at the beginning of Episode 3 (Cross Channel Discount Buying). Karren Brady seemed as exasperated as I felt when she told Vana; “I don’t know why you’re laughing, it was a shambles.”

This behaviour highlights a key lesson that women in business can learn. The guys on the show can disagree pretty vehemently, even coming close to blows in the Discount Store episode. However it’s quickly forgotten by the time the next task comes round.

The women, on the other hand take all the knocks more personally and brew up more battles. In my experience the best approach to conflict in the workplace is to either address the issue head on and clear the air, or to decide to let it go and move on. Try telling that to Charleine and Selina.

There are other lessons to be learnt from the fired female candidates:

Close the deal: Ruth Whitely, who promised so much as a sales trainer, was fired at the end of the Pet Show episode because she’d chatted indiscriminately to customers without focusing sufficiently on those actually likely to buy one of the pricey cat towers.

Don’t take no for an answer: In Cross Channel Discount Buying –  which I commented on as business guest – we saw Jenny Garbis miss out on buying mussels (and ultimately get fired) because she accepted the word of the waitress rather than insisting on speaking to the chef.  In her defence Jenny is young, but clearly bright so I’m sure will toughen up in time!

Get the boardroom politics right: The women fired so far have struggled to defend themselves in front of Lord Sugar. It’s a good reminder that when you’re called into the boardroom, it’s about survival – you need a strategy and to be prepared to take the gloves off if necessary.

With only Vana and Charleine left fighting it out with the guys for Lord Sugar’s £250,000, I’m hoping that they are ready for that traditional nemesis of the under-prepared – the interviews . Lord Sugar and his aides are always quick to pounce on those candidates who can’t verbally back up any extravagant claims on their CVs – and I absolutely agree with that. I find myself wishing I was doing the interviews!

Both women excelled in Wednesday’s Property Agents episode putting the men – except Richard – in the shade and making them strong contenders for the final. Vana will want to ensure she stays assertive when faced with angry males – she has looked rather cowed by Richard on occasion. By contrast, when faced with boardroom pressure, Charleine should choose persuasiveness over forcefulness; in “Party Planning” the former approach did her few favours with Lord Sugar.

So come on ladies, you are more than capable so reverse the track record of the female candidates so far and do women in business proud!

Frances Dickens is CEO of media barter company Astus Group and has appeared as a business guest on The Apprentice You’re Fired

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