I have never seen such an honest, unabashed portrait of the difficulties women face in corporate America as I have seen in The Apprentice.
Unabashed truth #1: Men hire people who are like them.
It's the men who set the tone for corporate life, the same men who win The Apprentice. For those of you who do not watch the show, the final episode was between Kelly (white male, 37) and Jennifer (white female, 31). It didn't matter that the general consensus was that Jennifer has more passion than Kelly. It didn't matter that Jennifer delivered comparable results to Kelly in a world that is dominated by men and not women.
The only thing that mattered, in the end, was that Kelly was “proven” and “steady”. These are euphemisms for male. Proven, in this instance, means that people can count on him to act like a man. And “steady” in this context means that men are not as passionate as women and thank goodness because men are not used to dealing with that kind of passion except when they want to get laid.
Unabashed truth #2: Women must use sex well, but not too well.
Carolyn, Donald Trump's sidekick, is a hot blond who wears sleeveless shirts that reveal taut arms but never stray far from Brooks Brothers styling. Carolyn kisses Trump (on both cheeks) in situations in which Trumps second sidekick, George (older man) walks away without so much as a pat on the back. But Carolyn is presented on the show as someone powerful. It's a balancing act. If Carolyn were ugly, this setup would not work. If she were as old as George, then Trump would not look as good sitting between the two of them.
Carolyn is careful to condemn female contestants for using sex as a way to get ahead. She has to say that. Balance is everything for women right now. You need to be totally hot and totally oblivious to it.
Unabashed truth #3: Children impact women's careers more than men's.
A recent Congressional study found that professional men and women make the same amount of money for doing the same jobs until the men and women have kids. Then the women's' salaries fall behind. Likely explanations: Women take on the brunt of the household/childrearing duties even in homes where the spouses were equal earners before kids; women take less responsibility at work because they're overwhelmed by the balancing act; men do not cut back because the more money they make the more they are likely to have a wife (and probably a nanny, a maid, etc) at home enabling them.
The Apprentice is a realistic depiction of this problem. Women with kids are not likely to audition for fifteen weeks of living in an absurd, dorm-like arrangement without their kids. It is no surprise that in the most recent episode, the only Apprentices who had kids were men.
Unabashed truth #4: Most powerful women with kids have a husband taking care of them.
Every so often a business publication will feature an article about how women get to the top, or the ten most powerful women, or women who broke through the glass ceiling. In each article, women who refuse to be identified by name cite the fact that their husband takes care of their home and kids as crucial to her ability to succeed at the office.
Carolyn is no exception. She is the most powerful woman on The Apprentice, and her husband is the primary caretaker for her two kids.
So if you want to get an accurate sense of how far women have come in corporate life, take a look at The Apprentice. And don't be shocked that men keep winning. If you want to make a difference in your career, I would not advise acting like a man (not believable) or getting plastic surgery (you don't need to be THAT hot). But I would advise that whether you're male or female, make sure you have a spouse who is willing to take care of home duties while you build a powerhouse career.