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.