IVANKA ON WORK­ING WOMEN The first daugh­ter’s clutch of cliches and un­nec­es­sary tru­isms.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY ROBIN GIVHAN Robin Givhan is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

The new book that Ivanka Trump has writ­ten, “Women Who Work: Rewrit­ing the Rules for Suc­cess,” is trite and te­dious. So fo­cused on ex­hort­ing read­ers to de­fine suc­cess on their own terms, it man­ages to be both hu­mor­less and com­i­cally re­moved from the re­al­i­ties of life for the broad swath of women who work 9 to 5 or who strug­gle along with min­i­mum-wage jobs.

A nar­row fo­cus on women who live up­per­mid­dle-class lives is not un­com­mon in the genre of work-life man­u­als, in part be­cause those books mostly be­gin with the premise that women can im­prove their sta­tus in the of­fice by be­ing savvier in how they wield their power. It’s more com­pli­cated and chal­leng­ing to of­fer coun­sel to those who are os­ten­si­bly pow­er­less. And pre­sum­ably, there’s less profit.

Still, it’s worth press­ing on through the cliches and apho­risms be­cause Trump is not just an­other legacy ex­ec­u­tive of­fer­ing up warmed-over ad­vice to bur­nish her brand while fail­ing to en­gage in the dif­fi­cult per­sonal work of ac­knowl­edg­ing the ways her in­her­ited wealth and so­cial con­nec­tions have fu­eled her suc­cess.

She is the first daugh­ter and an ad­viser to her fa­ther, President Trump.

Ac­cord­ing to the cover notes, “Women Who Work” was writ­ten be­fore the re­sults of the 2016 elec­tion were known and while Ivanka Trump was still of­fi­cially an ex­ec­u­tive in the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion and head of her own fash­ion brand. Now, she is set­tled in Washington and has taken on the cause of fe­male em­pow­er­ment in the work­force.

And so, a book that would un­der other cir­cum­stances prob­a­bly be just an­other slim vol­ume in the self-help sec­tion be­comes some­thing more. Per­haps it can serve as a loose guide to what might in­form her think­ing on her pet projects: in­vest­ment in fe­male en­trepreneurs, ma­ter­nity leave, the gen­der gap in tech­nol­ogy and so on. At a min­i­mum, per­haps it can of­fer ad­di­tional clues to her per­son­al­ity and tem­per­a­ment.

The tone of “Women Who Work” is as calm and sooth­ing as the pub­lic Ivanka Trump. A har­ried Ivanka? A di­sheveled Ivanka? Not in th­ese pages. Can a book be poised? If so, this book is an ex­em­plar of poise. It is also more than 200 pages of non­spe­cific re­as­sur­ance that ev­ery­thing will be great.

Trump of­fers no fresh in­sights for women in the early stages of their ca­reers. How do you make a case for a higher start­ing wage? Do your re­search and be con­fi­dent, she writes. How do you suc­ceed in pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ments that seem to value face time in the of­fice over qual­ity of work? Com­mu­ni­cate your ac­com­plish­ments to your boss, she ad­vises.

And what about a more-sea­soned pro­fes­sional look­ing to rally her stag­nant troops or con­sid­er­ing in­sti­tut­ing a flex­time pol­icy? There’s no guid­ance other than just, you know, do it.

The book’s lan­guage is weighed down by busi­ness buzz­words, all of which have the ef­fect of drain­ing a sense of hu­man­ity from the pages. At times, the book reads like a tran­script from “The Ap­pren­tice.” At others, it has the tone of a busi­ness school case study. Ev­ery ac­tiv­ity, from at­tend­ing a child’s recital to sched­ul­ing a meet­ing with con­trac­tors, is a “task.” There are “de­liv­er­ables” in­stead of ac­com­plish­ments. “Ar­chi­tect” is a verb. Ev­ery en­counter is lev­er­aged.

And there is this as­sess­ment, of­fered near the book’s half­way mark: “The op­por­tu­nity cost of not be­ing with my kids elu­ci­dates my pri­or­i­ties in great re­lief, caus­ing me to be tremen­dously fo­cused.” I pre­sume that means be­ing a mother has made Trump a bet­ter man­ager. But does her ap­point­ment to play with her son Joseph and his cars for 20 min­utes ev­ery day count as qual­ity time or just a “task”? Is find­ing qual­ity time with one’s child just a mat­ter of get­ting a color-coded cal­en­dar?

“Women Who Work” reads a bit like a col­lec­tion of ex­cerpts from books by most ev­ery con­tem­po­rary au­thor who has had some­thing to say about balanc­ing work, am­bi­tion, fam­ily, chil­dren and one’s sense of self. Trump is a col­lec­tor of in­for­ma­tion. She ref­er­ences the work of Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter, Sh­eryl Sand­berg, David Brooks and vir­tu­ally ev­ery TED talker even re­motely con­cerned with self-ac­tu­al­iza­tion.

But Trump also quotes de­signer Tory Burch, Liberian President Ellen John­son Sir­leaf, Win­ston Churchill, Toni Mor­ri­son and the Dalai Lama. One can surely find in­spi­ra­tion in all sorts of un­likely places, but Trump’s abil­ity to find glass-ceil­ing-bust­ing em­pow­er­ment in Mor­ri­son’s novel “Beloved,” about a run­away slave who kills her child rather than see her in bondage, is quite a feat.

Trump pro­claims again and again that she aims to help women — and men — be­come their best work­ing selves. Men, by the way, ex­ist in this book as par­en­thet­i­cal in­ter­jec­tions. She en­cour­ages women (and men!) to set their own per­sonal pri­or­i­ties. She en­cour­ages women (and men!) to de­fine suc­cess for them­selves. But this book is really about Ivanka Trump — not the per­son but the brand. And that brand is rooted in shiny, glam­orous suc­cess, not the messy, ex­haust­ing hu­man cost of busi­ness.

When Trump of­fers ad­vice on sur­viv­ing a lay­off, she coun­sels women to ne­go­ti­ate sev­er­ance, speak to an at­tor­ney and make sure any non­com­pete clause that might have been in their con­tract is voided. That’s fine ad­vice for, say, a fash­ion in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive, but not es­pe­cially rel­e­vant for some­one who just had her fac­tory job jerked out from un­der her.

Most of us find it hard to see beyond our own re­al­ity. Every­one en­gages in plat­i­tudes. But Trump has the president’s ear. And she has promised to speak to him about im­prov­ing women’s work lives. In her book, she un­der­scores the value of a wide net­work of ad­vis­ers. Men­tors are valu­able. Re­li­able and af­ford­able child care is es­sen­tial. Em­ploy­ers should not treat child-rear­ing as an in­con­ve­nience. All good and true, but there are few — well, ac­tu­ally there are no — de­tails on how to turn those be­liefs into re­al­ity.

Trump wants women to fol­low their pas­sion. “You need to start by fig­ur­ing out what you gen­er­ally like and dis­like, but gen­uine in­ter­ests aren’t al­ways dis­cov­ered through soul-search­ing; they emerge through re­peated in­ter­ac­tions with the out­side world.” But what of those young women who live in poverty and who never get a chance to see beyond their hol­lowed-out neigh­bor­hoods? What about those folks in ru­ral ar­eas for whom an In­ter­net con­nec­tion is not a given but a spotty, con­stantly buffer­ing or­deal?

Trump seems far more fo­cused on help­ing to tweak the work­ing lives of women who al­ready have it pretty good. For a pres­i­den­tial ad­viser who wants to lead the charge on women and work, her book sug­gests a pro­foundly nar­row fo­cus and a lack of un­der­stand­ing about the lives of women who do not work in of­fices, who do not have pro­fes­sional de­grees and who have jobs rather than ca­reers.

Trump sounds like a de­mand­ing but pleas­ant boss. There are free snacks at her of­fice. Her em­ploy­ees have been treated to les­sons in med­i­ta­tion. They can telecom­mute.

Her fam­ily life sounds de­light­ful, too. Her daugh­ter, Ara­bella, some­times comes to the of­fice, where she has a lit­tle desk. Trump en­joys the un­in­ter­rupted fam­ily time that ob­serv­ing the Sab­bath en­sures. And her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, has a calm­ing ef­fect on her.

This book is earnest. But that doesn’t make it par­tic­u­larly thought­ful or im­pact­ful. The same might ul­ti­mately be said of its au­thor.


In her role as a White House ad­viser, Ivanka Trump has said she will fo­cus on em­pow­er­ing women in the work­force.

WOMEN WHO WORK Rewrit­ing the Rules for Suc­cess By Ivanka Trump Port­fo­lio. 243 pp. $26

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