The first episode of the 13th season of The Apprentice has already started off on a controversial note. Candidate Siobhan Smith is under fire after appearing to suggest that only attractive women should sell to male customers.
On last night’s episode, the teams were set a burger task. While discussing their strategy for the task, Siobhan, who was on the women’s team, suggested that the ‘attractive’ members of the team should be the ones to peddle burgers to men.
“Our customers in Canary Wharf are going to be male-dominated area so it’s something you need to take into consideration when you choose who you want to be selling the burgers. So it’s gotta be attractive to him as well to want to buy it,” she said.
Lord Sugar’s right-hand woman and formidable entrepreneur Karren Brady, who was observing the women’s team, immediately picked up on this. She asked Siobhan directly, “What do you mean about attractive?” to which Siobhan appeared to backtrack by saying it would be a problem if people were shy in dealing with men. Brady immediately shut that down, saying, “none of you strike me as shy.”
Five minutes into this exchange, the Twitterverse went mad. Tweets in support of Brady’s no-nonsense approach to sexism poured in. According to Emma O’Leary, an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group, this approach shows that sexist comments and ideals need to be called out as they happen, regardless of where they come from.
“To focus on a woman’s appearance rather than her skills, abilities and experience is a very outdated and backward way of thinking and should certainly not be adopted in any workplace,”she said, commenting on The Apprentice season premier last night.
“It’s clear that there is still a sexist attitude in some circles when it comes to women in the workplace. A recent parliamentary investigation into workplace dress codes exposed some shocking examples of discrimination. To hear a comment like this being made by a woman in a high profile ‘recruitment’ process is disappointing to say the least.”
For O’Leary, the fact that this comment came from a woman doesn’t make it any less sexist. “It demonstrates that those sexist ideals are still entrenched. The Government has taken steps to address this by introducing gender pay reporting, and those that have so far produced their reports have demonstrated that a gap does exist,” she added. “The requirement to publish the reports means these organisations should recognise that they have an issue and take steps to eradicate pay differences between men and women. However, there is only so much legislation can do as that will not alter mind sets like this and Karren Brady was absolutely right to call her out on it.”
In an interview with the Radio Times, Karren Brady said: “I insisted on equality when I negotiated my contract. I would not have allowed anything else. I’m totally a feminist in that I want equality – not more but not less.”