Women miss out on Apprentice top spot, just as they lose out in the UK workplace

Another year, another apprentice for Sir Alan Sugar to mould in his Essex headquarters. After twelve weeks of boardroom back-stabbing, wheeling and dealing and shameless grovelling, the self-made entrepreneur opted to give the £100,000 position to milkman’s son Lee McQueen. Around ten million Britons ignored the football and a certain other reality television show to tune in for the final episode of hiring and firing, though the tycoon’s final choice is likely to be the subject of many a water-cooler chat for some time yet.

For while McQueen certainly deserved his place in the final – for his impersonation of a ‘reverse pterodactyl if nothing else – leading into the final show, the smart money had been on Claire Young, an ambitious go-getter who proudly compared herself to a German Shepherd. In the same way, the first Apprentice Tim Campbell was largely overshadowed by bolshy saleswomen Saira Khan for the duration of the inaugural series, while last year saw the much-fancied Kristina Grimes lose out to Simon Ambrose at the final hurdle. And what about Katie Hopkins, grilled by the board over her childcare arrangements?

Though it may be going too far to claim that the knight of the realm is simply sexist, there is clearly a pattern of women contestants being overlooked in favour of their male peers.

As Kristina told the Guardian just this week: "It’s such a shame, because we’re recognising the brilliant talent that women have got, yet they are being stopped. And they are being stopped in a very vocal way, on national TV."

She argued that, given that one of Sir Alan’s trusted lieutenants is the no-nonsense Margaret Mountford and that Michelle Dewsbery has scooped the role in the past, sexism is not the issue, but rather maybe the boss is just a little ‘old-fashioned’ in his view of strong women workers.

‘Old fashioned’ values still reflected in pay packets

Sadly, it would seem that the hit BBC show is not the only place where such an attitude continues to be rife. Years after the feminist revolution, it is almost universally-acknowledged that female workers often get a worse deal than their male colleagues, and numerous studies have backed this up.

According to recent statistics released by the Government Equalities Office, the average gap for full-time pay between the sexes now stands at 17.2 per cent, with a median average gap of 12.6 per cent.

What’s more, for part-time workers the average gap is 35.6 per cent and the median 39.1 per cent, while the Office for National Statistics has also revealed that, over a lifetime, women lose out on earnings of around £300,000 in comparison to men.

Though the figures may also show that the gap is narrowing, Sarah Veal, the head of equality and employment rights at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) believes that change could be coming too slowly for millions of women across the UK.

"It’s a question of whether we should be prepared to wait for things to change, for society to shift and for culture to reflect this economic reality. Whether we need to give it a bit of a push or a shove with a refreshing of the equality and sex discrimination laws to ginger employers up a bit.

"We might have to say: ‘Look, it’s not acceptable any longer that you don’t do more to accommodate woman and you’re going to have to invest in them by doing things differently.’ There is an awful lot that has to be done to put women in the position where they absolutely would have to be paid equally."

Complaining about unfairness won’t pay the bills

Until all things are equal, therefore, women need to take care of themselves financially – after all, while pay may not be equal, women don’t benefit from cheaper mortgages or better pensions.

Even those just embarking on their careers like the Apprentice candidates need to look to the future and consider saving for their retirement from an early age, either through a work pension or a private scheme.

Simply sitting back and complaining at the unfairness of the situation is likely to lead to a retirement that is a long way from the luxury yachts and fancy restaurants hoped for in youth.

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