Week Three, 6.30am, and Jane was already in fight mode, saying that some of the boys should be fired. Here we are reminded of the strangest anomaly of The Apprentice. If we are to keep up the pretence that the show is more about real business than it is about poking fun at the sort of people who call themselves “the brand” without any irony whatsoever, then why are the teams still split by gender, a dynamic rarely if ever seen in corporations and SMEs anywhere?
Even with the other unnatural conditions of the show – the cameras, the shared rooms, the ridiculous time pressures – there is always some evidence of improvement once the genders begin to collaborate, rather than compete.
Of course, there were fumbles. As Phoenix’s faux-Italian tomato goop boiled over, the rest of us were waiting for Jane to do the same. As the co-founder of a food manufacturing company, for some reason she had decided not put herself forward as team leader for a task that involved the manufacture of a foodstuff.
The Duane-meister stepped in. While he was right to deal with the wider concept of the product first, he should not be forgiven for dismissing Jane’s input on the technical side so readily. He may have felt that inviting help was a sign of weakness, but his “machismo” approach later taught him a valuable lesson as he insisted on tasting the toxic first batch of their chutney, bravely squeaking something about it being “perfect” before crumpling into a coughing ball of flames. He then decided to send a sub team to a product pitch without the product. Nick and co dealt with this surprisingly well, and the deli owners invited them back the next day, eventually snapping up 300 jars of pineapple chilli preserve. Yum.
Jane showed herself to have the same problem with admitting the need for help, and while admitting she was “no accountant”, she continued to simmer after a dressing down from Duane about her inability to crunch numbers.
Whether the Jane-Duane clash was about gender is debatable, and as their team were the ones who “cut the mustard”, we didn’t get a chance to delve deeper into the conflict. We however did get the sense that the competition of the previous weeks between the genders had led some individual insecurity. Both Jane and Duane seemed to feel they had a lot to prove, which was in danger of getting in the way of their success.
This insecurity could explain the almost comical sexism in team Phoenix. Adam and Ricky’s awkwardness at being managed by a woman was amusing as part of a TV episode, less so once we realise that Adam and Ricky aren’t actors and that this was not set in the 1950s. On the other side, Katie’s line about men being easy to manipulate came back to haunt her in the boardroom, showing that the route to equality should never involve undermining or underestimating the other party.
Despite all this, there definitely was a better dynamic in both teams, with both Phoenix and Sterling responding relatively well to their respective crises. In and beyond the workplace, we know there is nothing to be gained from pitching the genders against one another. It only serves to make good telly.