REWRITING THE RULE FOR SUCCESS
Having trouble having it all? Ivanka alone can fix it
The preface of Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work, is anodyne enough. But something about the third paragraph stuck deep in my craw. I didn’t see it coming, at first. “Over the last year-and-a-half,” it begins, “I’ve had the honour of travelling across our country, meeting the men and women of our great nation and listening to their hopes and dreams, their challenges and concerns.”
So far, so bueno. It’s the next sentence that’s the real lulu. After so many months of sustained exposure to the anxieties of average Americans, you’d think Trump would have been humbled. Her response was slightly different. “I have grown tremendously as a person,” she continues, “and the experience has been life changing.”
For Donald Trump’s eldest daughter, the campaign trail was simply a switchback in the long, golden path toward self-actualisation.
Self-actualisation is the all-consuming preoccupation of Women Who Work. In this way, the book is not really offensive so much as witlessly derivative, endlessly recapitulating the wisdom of other, canonical self-help and business books — by Stephen Covey, Simon Sinek, Shawn Achor, Adam Grant. (Profiting handsomely off the hard work of others appears to be a signature Trumpian trait.) For a while, it reads like the best valedictorian speech ever. Pursue your passion! Make sure you, and not others, define success! Architect a life you love in order to fully realise your multidimensional self!
And because Ivanka alone can fix our problems, she opens her book with a pasture full of straw men, including the argument that our culture isn’t having nuanced conversations about working mothers. “The time to change the narrative around women and work once and for all is long overdue,” Trump writes. This will come as a shock to Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter — both of whom Trump later quotes at length.
Eventually, though, a pair of related existential questions emerge. Namely: For whom is Ivanka Trump writing? And what did she write Women Who Work for? As Sinek likes to ask, what is the why of this book?
Just looking at Women Who Work gives you a clue. It’s a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes. Lee Iacocca appears two pages before Socrates. Toni Morrison appears one page after Estée Lauder. A quote from Nelson Mandela introduces the section that encourages women to ask for flexitime: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” The book is manifestly the descendant of many TED talks and lifestyle websites. ( Women Who Work was, in fact, the name of an initiative Trump started on her website, providing advice to working-girl millennials, before it became the title of this book.) It’s perfect for a generation weaned on Pinterest and goop.com — you can easily imagine its many pink-tinted pages appearing on Shoshanna’s manifestation board in Girls. In a crowded marketplace of freelance thought leaders and spiritualists, Trump, with her social-media following of millions, is carving her own niche as a glambition guru, with an explicit aim to “inspire and empower women to create the lives they want to live”.
This is the sort of feminism that drives some women bananas, having less to do with structural change than individual fulfilment and accessorising properly; perhaps it can even be achieved by wearing her fine jewellery or apparel, which she repeatedly mentions throughout the book (as well as her family’s tremendous hotels). There’s certainly a market for it. There’s also family precedent for it. Her father nearly annihilated his millions, and went on to write many successful business books. Why Women Who Work: Rewriting The Rules For Success
By Ivanka Trump Portfolio/Penguin 243pp not Ivanka? Better yet, these personal-best and attagirl bromides offer the advantage of being apolitical, and Ivanka Trump is nothing if not practised in the art of generic, apolitical speech — a fact that John Oliver has shrewdly observed.
So the why of her book becomes easy to discern. She’s extending the Trump brand.
The intended audience for Women Who Work is a more mysterious question. Trump starts out presuming a wide range of female readers.
But a class bias at some point begins to reveal itself, and it’s not just in the business leaders she profiles — who, like Trump, are often the daughters of New York’s elite. It’s in her discussion of Covey’s four-quadrant time-management grid, when she identifies grocery shopping as neither urgent nor important. (Do the groceries just magically appear in her fridge? Oh, wait. They probably do.) It’s in her confession that “honestly, I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care” during the 2016 campaign. (Too busy.)
It’s in her description of her daily life, in which she somehow — until the election, anyway — managed to run her own company, serve as an executive vice-president in the Trump Organization, train for a half marathon and spend time alone with each of her three children. Absent locating a wormhole in space, there’s really only one way to find time for all of these commitments and that is with the help of staff. Yet her household help barely rates a mention in this discussion.
By the time Trump gets to her primer on maternity leave, she is, consciously or not, addressing an imaginary cohort of upper management and CEOs. Back at work, she expects you to have a team. It is amazing how many times Women Who Work talks about the importance of Your Team. There are more teams in this book than there are in the NFL. In the case of maternity leave, she advises “to be present with your little one, and not wondering whether or not your team is floundering without you”. She adds that you should “Find someone trustworthy and capable on your team to act as a gatekeeper once you go on leave.” That way, they’ll bother you only when it’s truly important.
But here’s what really matters about parental leave, as far as Ivanka Trump is concerned: She seems to still believe — as she did during the presidential campaign — that Americans ought to be paid for it. She waits until the penultimate page of her book to say so. But she does. (She talks about affordable child care, too.)
These final pages were written before Nov 8, 2016. (Trump says in the preface that she turned in her manuscript before she knew the election results.) And what’s remarkable is that she wrote them as if she thought her old man was going to lose: “We need to fight for change, whether through the legislature or in the workplace.”
Well, her father didn’t lose. Ivanka Trump now has a formal White House role, as a special adviser to the president. She has security clearance and an office in the West Wing. She has access to the ultimate C-suite. At any moment, she could walk in and demand her father put forward a plan that mirrors precisely what she provides her own employees: Eight weeks of paid maternity leave. By European standards, that may be paltry. By American ones, it’s extremely generous and a very big deal.
While she’s at it, she might want to show him the part of her book about how the best leaders identify the gaps in their knowledge. But that may be far too much to ask.