I’ve wanted to address this issue for a long, long time. No doubt anyone who watches the ABC show ‘Shark Tank‘ has become familiar with the usual suspects: Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John of FUBU, ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Kevin O’Leary, Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec, and Lori Greinier of QVC. However, having gone through that listing, something seems a bit off…doesn’t the ‘tank’ only house 5 chairs?
For some reason, there have always been the same four men sitting in each of the chairs season after season (with the exception of Kevin Harrington in season 1, and Jeff Foxworthy in season 2). Despite the fact that both women are featured as part of the current season’s cast, the two women are never seen together on a single episode. Is this perhaps meant to be a reflection of the disparity of women on corporate boards? Though I have been all-to-ready to hop onto the couch and tune in to watch hopeful Americans see their dreams fulfilled or squashed, the gender inequality represented by the ‘lone woman shark’ had never struck me so much as it has in the current season. In this season of Shark Tank, Lori and Barbara are swapped in and out like accessory handbags while the panel of men is left unaltered: Mark is always beside Daymond, who is always beside Mr. Wonderful, who is beside Barbara/Lori, leaving Robert off in the far corner. This lineup indicates that the only apparent spot for women on Shark Tank is between Robert and Mr. Wonderful, or nowhere at all.
Now previously I mentioned how this could be a potential reflection of disparity of women on corporate boards, but this may also be a reflection of how society views women business owners and female founders as a whole. After a survey done by GMI of Women on Boards, an article in Forbes (published on 3/08/2012) reported that only 12.6% of women are on boards, a percentage far lower than our neighboring countries:
“So why does this matter? Why are shareholders, and some companies, pushing to increase the representation of women on corporate boards? It is largely because there are numerous academic studies out there that show that more diverse boards (and these studies are based on diversity of race and background as well as gender) improve the quality of board discussions and decision-making and contribute to organizational and financial performance. With this as a given, it is not difficult to see why shareholders would want to increase diversity.” -Paul Hodgson, Forbes contributor
Diversity has become the buzzword of many companies looking for a competitive edge: it should be a surprise to no one that following the outcry at the lack of women on boards, Marissa Mayer joined forces with Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg joined the board of Facebook. In an article by Sallie Krawcheck in Business Insider published in October (and written in response to the ‘can women have it all’ debate), she says that women-owned businesses are less prone to gender-based pay disparity and that diverse teams largely outperform less-diverse teams. Krawcheck also seem to have taken note of the
“And, yet, the progress of women into senior roles has stalled in broader corporate America. And, on Wall Street, an industry that was substantially white, middle-aged and male has become whiter, middle-aged-er and maler coming out of the downturn, essentially doubling down on that bet. In my experience, CEOs and Boards “get” the issue and the benefits of improving diversity. But on a case-by-case-by-case basis, as promotions are decided, they choose the known entity, who tends to be someone who looks and sounds a good bit like those already in leadership roles; and this seems to be particularly true when businesses are under stress.” Sallie Krawcheck, Business Insider contributor
That’s something to chew on…
Perhaps Shark Tank, like these businesses Krawcheck mentions was under stress to maintain the ‘look’ of the sharks by keeping them predominantly middle-aged and male because that is what their audience is so accustomed to seeing. One thing I wouldn’t mind seeing if having one of the men replaced to accommodate Barbara Corcoran…or better yet, swap out O’Leary for a successful woman of color, or a woman of color who is an LGBT advocate. Why not just switch up the ‘panel’ on a show-to-show basis using a more diverse allotment of sharks? If it’s true what they say about there being plenty of fish in the sea, surely there must be plenty of fresh sharks to choose from.