Dear Ivanka...

You might write about Women Who Work. But you're not one of us.

by Christine Armstrong
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2017

Dear Ivanka,

Like you, I have three kids. Like you, I run my own business. Like you, I'm mad-keen for a ‘life I love’. But I just can’t advise anyone to read your book Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.

I can’t advise them to read it because you’re the modern, living embodiment of the fairytale Rapunzel. The beautiful, blonde, stifled princess, trapped in her tower. The twist is that, unlike feisty Rapunzel, you’re not scheming to break out and throw yourself into the world. No. You’re really pretty happy up there in your turret looking down on the rest of us and loud-hailering life-advice to the passers-by. To the point that you’ve written a book that is only relevant for women stuck in towers. 

This book is for the kind of women who are woken by calls from Anna Wintour offering unsolicited internships at Vogue. Women who have, at their own pink office, a pull-down desk so that their daughter can visit for a 'mommy lunch date' during the week. For women who, when prioritising their tasks, are able to consign shopping for food into a box marked neither urgent nor important. 

Basically, you've written a book just for yourself.

You say that your goal is ‘to unleash the full power of women and girls to accelerate the pace of progress both in our country and around the world’. The great news is that you are someone who unarguably has the power to improve the fate of women and girls, quite literally, all over the world. To the extent that Matt Frei, the Channel 4 News journalist who has been following Trump, calls you the ‘Donald whisperer’. In this new power role, you have the perfect opportunity to try out your own advice. To, as you put it, ‘turn the tables on yourself’ and ‘open yourself up to possibility’. To embrace your ‘manual for architecting the life you want to live’.

So, let’s get you started.

First up, you’re going to need to ‘gather wisdom from others’ and ‘sharpen your listening skills’. We get that you’ve already talked to some of the most successful and privileged people alive. (Hi Ralph Lauren, do you want to give me fashion advice? No? Really, just for Ivanka? Ok, no worries.) 

The next stop, then, is ‘normal people’: the ones who live at ground level and for whom food is up there on the priority list. You claim to have spoken to women all over the country in person and through your website but the evidence of these conversations is starkly lacking in your book. One of the most worrying bits of the book is when you represent the views of women who don’t have children by quoting something that a woman in the audience at a Women in Consulting panel said to Sheryl Sandberg. I’m not sure if I need to tell you that a woman who attends a Women in Consulting panel is likely to be in the top 5-10% of the US in terms of education and income? Maybe I do, since you weren’t actually there.

Instead of limiting yourself to the second-hand quotes of what not-very-ordinary women think, go and visit real ones. Don't just observe them through windows or online via your website – this isn’t an outing to the zoo. Just go and hang out in kitchens, supermarkets, factories, hospitals, schools, prisons and listen to them talk, help them out with their tasks, chat with their kids, talk to their parents. You know how to do it: you have to ‘open yourself up to possibility’ and ‘be authentic to create connection’.

Once you’ve got your head into this and truly understand the scale of the challenges ‘ground level’ women are dealing with, you’ll be ready go back to your White House office and try out your next steps. My hunch is that you’ll have found very few women who recruit their own teams, set their own working hours and regularly close major multi-million-dollar business deals. Even when they do ‘dig deep’.

One of my memories of working in the US was at an all-staff meeting where they announced that changes in the economic outlook meant changes to employee benefits. An African American mum who worked on reception spent the meeting rocking and sobbing quietly. For women like her to be able to succeed, motivational quotes from even the most magical TED talks aren’t going to do it. The system she’s in needs to change more than she does. And that is where you can really start to achieve your stated goal.

Bringing your wisdom to life in government will ‘show you have a vision for the future’ and empower you to ‘protect and promote women in corporations’. I guess that, at some point, you’ll need to expand your remit to those women not in corporations - the unemployed, underemployed, exploited and vulnerable. But, hell, you can just ‘modify your blueprint’ as you go.

This is how you’ll achieve the stated aim of your book and justify the time and money spent on it. It’ll also release yourself from the tall tower you’ve chosen to live in. 

I’m calling it, Ivanka, even though you don’t even pay me to be your adviser. You really do have the power to 'change the conversation around women and work’. Go at it, princess. 

Women Who Work by Ivanka Trump was published by Portfolio last month, priced £16.99.

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