Senior year of college can be a stressful time for a young woman eager to make her way in the world. For Ivanka Trump, the anxiety came from choosing among a platter of exquisite opportunities.
Trump had accepted a job in real estate development with a well-known New York City firm called Forest City Ratner. But things got tricky one morning when Anna Wintour, the celebrity editor-in-chief of Vogue, called.
“She’d heard I was graduating soon. She knew I liked fashion. She wanted to offer me a job at Vogue,” Trump writes in her new book, Women Who Work. “I graciously declined.” Pursuing real estate was her passion, and she’d never bail on a commitment, she explains.
Trump’s book, written before the election but published Tuesday, is a grab-bag of generic work-life advice for upper-middle-class white women who need to “architect” (a verb that pops up a lot) their lives. But underneath that, and perhaps more remarkable, is Trump’s inability to truly recognize how her own privileged upbringing was key to her success.
“My father’s advice to my younger self has proven true: When you’re passionate and you work hard you can achieve great things,” she writes.
It’s worth emphasizing here that getting a job offer from perhaps one of the most influential women in fashion, out of nowhere, isn’t a thing that happens to people who simply work hard.
As buckets of economic data make clear, hard work is not always enough to succeed. But it’s not totally apparent Trump understands this. Her book lacks the self-awareness we’ve seen from other elite feminists ― particularly Sheryl Sandberg, whom Trump quotes liberally.
In her latest book, Sandberg makes it painstakingly clear that she’s all too aware of her elite perch. She casts a wide net for sources ― beyond her wealthy friends. And she opens herself up, telling emotionally revealing stories that make it easier to connect with a billionaire who’s offering life advice.
That’s not happening in Women Who Work, whose title was reportedly inspired by Sandberg’s first book, Lean In. (Side note: Are there actually any women out there who don’t work?) The 35-year-old entrepreneur says she won’t promote her new book, and all profits will go to charity.
Because she’s not totally blind to the truth, Trump offers a shoutout to her head start in life: “Undeniably one factor in my success has been the doors that my family’s name and my privileged upbringing have opened,” she writes. “I’m deeply grateful for all the opportunities afforded to me, but they alone didn’t guarantee my success.”
That’s true. And Trump is known for actually doing work and not being a spoiled heiress. But she fails to wrestle with how her family’s wealth and status allowed all her hard work to pay off.
As someone who now has the president’s ear and may help shape policies that affect working families, Trump has a responsibility to dig deeper.
She devotes a lot of words to talking about the power of entrepreneurship ― and has spent some of her time in the White House focused on helping women start businesses.
However, she neglects to mention that pursuing your own business is absolutely a terrain mostly occupied by rich and upper-middle-class people. The majority of business owners are white, male and highly educated, a recent study found. The average cost to launch a startup is $30,000, according to another report, and the overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs get that money from friends and family.
It’s easy to understand why those who come from wealthy families have an abundantly easier time taking a risk.
That should be something Trump’s father ― who got his start with a $1 million loan from his dad ― surely understands.
The psychology of who takes a risk isn’t something Trump gets into. Ultimately, the guidelines laid out in this book are applicable to only a very thin slice of Americans: those who have a secure enough foundation to be able to make real choices about how they build their families and work lives. Those choices aren’t available to many women in this country.
Despite acknowledging that women are “multidimensional,” the people Trump describes in her book come across as cliches. “We’re training for marathons and learning to code. We’re planning adventures with our kids and weekend getaways with our friends. We are defining what it means to be a modern woman who works,” she writes.
She also describes how hard it was for her during her father’s campaign, noting that she didn’t have time for meditation or massages.
Trump talks about how she manages her busy life with the help of a team, but neglects to explore the economics of the woman or women who presumably make up her household staff.
“Some of my best photos of the kids were taken by my nanny during the day,” she writes, the one time a nanny is mentioned in the book. But it’s clear that as a full-time working mom, Trump has some kind of support in raising her three young kids.
Trump opens the book up in her last chapter to talk about workplace and government policies that could support all working parents. And she acknowledges that not all workers will be able to get flexibility with their hours.
Trump boasts of the benefits she offers her staff ― free healthy snacks and something called #LunchBreaks that involves transcendental meditation. She also mentions that she gives both mothers and fathers eight weeks of paid leave for a new child, but fails to note that she put the policy in place only after much begging from her staff.
Toward the very end of the book, Trump finally pulls in statistics about the pay gap ― married mothers make 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man, she writes. She does not note that women of color earn even less.
She laments the fact that the United States is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t mandate maternity leave for women, and mentions the “lack of safe, affordable high-quality childcare.”
According to a New York Times profile published the same day as her book’s release, Trump is now considered by some to be the “best hope for progress” on women’s issues in the Trump White House. If this book is any indication, the women served by her activism will be culled from a fairly elite group.