Maggie Berry:The Apprentice Baby Battle

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The ever-controversial show, the Apprentice, is back on our screens. In keeping with the ethos of the programme, outspoken boss, Lord Sugar, has never been one to shy away from outlandish statements. When he said, in a debate at that House of Lords, that “women should be forthcoming when being interviewed, declaring their status regarding children and childcare so as to pre-empt the unanswerable questions in the mind of the interviewer”, it was hardly surprising – but all the same, it was disappointing.

This is not the first time that Lord Sugar has spoken out against laws protecting women in the workplace. The peer has previously said that the way to get around the laws protecting females is to simply not employ them. But what’s the harm – it’s only entertainment right? Just a cynical ploy to spark debate and boost ratings. Or is it?
To begin with, Lord Sugar is not the only Apprentice star to hold such views. Series three’s pantomime villain, Katie Hopkins, has widely criticised mothers who take maternity leave, on various TV programmes and on her personal blog.

“If you want to have a child and swan about for the next x number of months in floral’s [sic] pureeing vegetables and being a human udder, that is your choice,” she wrote, before going on to assert that your family-planning choices are not your employer’s problem.
However, I have some potentially unwelcome news for Lord Sugar and Ms. Hopkins – women’s maternity rights very much are an employer’s concern. Although Katie Hopkins, who went back to work three weeks after having a child, has every right to make her own arrangements, many new mothers want longer to bond with their children.
Moreover, are Lord Sugar and Katie Hopkins’s statements really harmless pantomime entertainment?

With a peak audience of 9.7 million, Lord Sugar and Hopkins certainly have a large platform to influence others – often those with an interest in business and entrepreneurship. Not only this, but Sir Alan Sugar is a House of Lords peer. His comments were made during a legitimate parliamentary debate. Removed from the arena of reality television and placed in the world of politics, can one really brush off Lord Sugar’s statements as just part of a persona – or could they genuinely set back women’s rights in the workplace, the fundamental laws that have been fought so hard for.

There are certain facts of life. One is, in order for the human civilisation to continue, people need to have children. The other is that women are an asset in the workplace. So how do we reconcile these two fundamental truths? By allowing women the proper time and space to bond with their children so that they can be happy and productive workers on their return – and so their rights are respected.

Hopkins, considerably less influential, but a public figure nonetheless, has asserted that “lazy” women who take maternity leave are making females everywhere unemployable – yet in my line of work I certainly don’t see a long stream of “unemployable women” – quite the opposite, even in a male-dominated industry such as IT.

Thankfully, one Apprentice star has seen the need to use her position responsibly. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Karren Brady, a panellist on the show refuted Lord Sugar’s comments: “If you say that you’d like children in the next five years and that rules you out of a job then I don’t think that’s particularly fair. I don’t even think about those things. I managed to have a family and run a business, so I don’t see any problems.”

Creating a culture where mothers feel pressured to come back to work before they’re ready will only serve to undo the advances made in recent years for maternity rights and the right for a woman to apply for a job without being unfairly grilled about her family planning aspirations. Perhaps Katie Hopkins should be campaigning for equal paternity rights as a solution to businesses assuming women of a certain age will take long leaves of absences, rather than campaigning against the females she thinks are being held back – then we’ll really see a level playing field.

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About Maggie Berry

Maggie Berry, Managing Director, Women in Technology

Maggie Berry is Managing Director of Women in Technology, the career site and recruitment service dedicated to increasing the number of women working and achieving in IT. She has been involved since Women in Technology’s inception in the autumn of 2004 and manages all aspects of the website and the networking activities Women in Technology organises.

The network now has nearly 7,000 members and the job board is helping a wide range of investment banks and technology firms to recruit more women into their IT divisions. Her background is in technology recruitment within the financial services where she spent four years as a recruiter with McGregor Boyall Associates. Prior to this she worked for NatWest as a Graduate Banking Manager, providing financial advice to final year university students and graduates. Maggie is a graduate of the University of East Anglia.

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  1. I think it is a shame that credence should be given to the comments of Lord Sugar and the vitriol of Ms. Hopkins. The former is contary to Employment Law, the later is confrontational and verging on the libelous. Unfortunately many agree with the comments not because they are sexist chauvenistic or living in the dark ages, but because of the economic pressures that the legislation places on them. In a period of recession every penny counts and extra costs are to be if possible avoided. Anyone who thinks maternity leave does not cause financial difficulties doesn’t live in the real world.
    There is no easy answer since direct questions can not be asked at interview. One answer maybe to ask all candidates where do you hope to be in a years, two years,five years time. Ms. Hopkins answer wouid be/would have been different to someone intending starting or increasing their family. This is not a sexist question since surely a male response regarding family could/should indicate a positive attitude towards work. Equally honest answers give the employer the opportunity to chose the right person for them. This openess would certainly I imagine go someway to appease Lord Sugar, but not Ms Hopkins, who I expect would still see the women as lazy.

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