The Apprentice fakers put female entrepreneurs off business

Aggressive, 'shouty', one-dimensional women in BBC show put women off starting a business argues leadership coach Bec Howard

After all these years, The Apprentice remains popular viewing despite the fact that its aspirations and focus have narrowed.

It is no longer emphasised that we are watching “20 of Britain’s brightest young business people” as the increasingly sleek and telegenic candidates – and their personalities, both male and female, become a little more one-dimensional with every series.

Despite its large number of viewers (although notably fewer than previous series) The Apprentice is now feeding us a combative, shouty, aggressive, win-at-all-costs, adversarial version of entrepreneurship.

Even as entertainment, this vignette of the world of entrepreneurship “Sugar-style” would see many of us real entrepreneurs go out of business fast as it places no importance on relationships, collaboration or the ‘win-win’ dynamic.

Unhelpfully this diet of so-called entrepreneurship is being fed into our homes each week on primetime TV – and what a wasted opportunity when it could do so much more, especially at a time when there is a real need to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs in the UK.

Putting women off business

Unfortunately for all of us, research shows us that programmes like The Apprentice are exactly what puts women off entering the world of self-employment. Research by RBS in 2013 showed that 40% of 18-35 year old women canvassed described the mentality of contestants as off-putting and that their overt aggressive behaviour made them doubt whether they had the ruthlessness to succeed.

This is a real cause for concern, as if we were to encourage women to become entrepreneurs by painting a real picture of entrepreneurship, and they were to set up businesses at the same rate as men, the RBS study estimates that the UK economy would benefit to the tune of £60bn.

What concerns me most is the detrimental effect the characterisation and personalisation of the contestants is having. They have all been encouraged to develop personas, facades which mean that they are neither congruent nor authentic – they have left their real selves at home and all we see is an emptiness and lack of authenticity.

Even Baroness Karren Brady, a woman for whom I have great respect, and who champions women in business, is cast as gagged, one-dimensional and somewhat ornamental in the face of this aggressive, combative style of entrepreneurship.

This is not the message women in business or those thinking about starting a business need!

Women entrepreneurs need authentic role models

As an award-winning entrepreneur, psychotherapeutic executive coach and co-founder of The Five Gateways, a women’s leadership programme, I spend more and more time rewiring peoples beliefs; shifting their mindsets and getting them to ditch the “oughts and shoulds” of who they think they need to be at work, beliefs which are quite simply sapping their energy, making them unhappy and ultimately less productive.

Success and happiness do not come from leaving huge chunks of your personality at home in favour of taking a created persona or facade to work almost like putting on armour. But being authentic, being 100% of you, brings empowerment, control, balance and success…… and almost effortlessly as you are no longer ploughing a large amount of energy into keeping up your act.

Authenticity is what is lacking in The Apprentice, yet perversely authenticity is what makes strong, resilient business leaders and exactly what would encourage more women to step into entrepreneurship.

Bec Howard is co-founder of The Five Gateways, a women’s leadership programme to empower dynamic women. 

Disagree with Howard’s view or want to show female entrepreneurs in a different light? The Apprentice is on the search for new candidates. Find out more here.

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  1. FlyingKite
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    My wife and I are both self-employed and find the apprentice a joke. The aggressiveness displayed is often over the top and a bad example to anyone wanting to develop a decent business. Long term success from being self-employed is based on good customer service, respect and honesty.

  2. Malcolm Tibbs
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    I’m sorry but if any individual, regardless of their sex, would avoid entrepreneurship based upon the highly manipulated antics of contestants on a reality TV show, then they don’t have the basic level of ability required to be their own boss anyway. It’s like watching “I’m a celeb” and claiming it puts tourists off Australia.