Rex Huppke | Her role isn’t a sign that we’re a step closer to true gender equality.
Ivanka Trump now has an office in the West Wing of the White House, a space coveted by anyone who has worked in politics in Washington, D.C.
She has security clearance that will make her privy to some of the nation’s most secret intelligence information and, of course, she has the ear of President Donald Trump, her father.
Ivanka Trump has expressed her desire to help in “advocating for women,” and after a February meeting with the president and Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, she tweeted a photo of herself with the two men noting “the importance of women having a seat at the table!”
Women having a seat at the table is important — I’d say it’s crucial, and shockingly rare in today’s working world.
But for many women in the workplace, Trump’s elevation to this powerful position does little to inspire.
“Frankly, I think the biggest message that Ivanka is espousing is that, sure, women can get a seat at the table … if they’ve already got a hefty leg up and they pander to the men above them,” Teagan Walsh-Davis, co-artistic director of The Jades theater group in Chicago wrote in an email. “I can certainly appreciate the idea of using your privilege for good. … But her goals seem to be a lot more shortsighted. When she talks about advocating for working women, she’s talking about women who are already successful. She’s seeing ‘working women’ as a monolith of her own class. In her mind, it’s mostly women who have already made it. In the family leave plan she’s tried to propose, most of the tax benefits go to families earning over $100k a year.”
Kathryn Smith, of Denver, worked as an intern in the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. She served in the Air Force and was finishing law school, with an eye toward a job as a legislative aid.
But she found no opportunities.
“That told me that Washington is political,” Smith said. “It’s clearly who you know. You can be the most outstanding person, but you need to know somebody.”
Smith went on to a career as an in-house counsel for Verizon, but she said news of Ivanka Trump’s new role in the administration frustrated her, in part because there’s no clear job description.
“This is a job that some young person who has probably worked 10 or 15 years, has a degree in political science and has paid their dues would love to have,” Smith said. “What is she? Adviser on women? Someone addressing issues of the working woman? There’s somebody out there who has researched it, has experience in it. This isn’t the role model I want to see for my child.”
Suzanne Muchin is the principal of Mind+Matter Studio, a Chicago brand strategy firm, and host of the podcast “The Big Payoff,” which provides career advice for women.
She said one of the key issues with Ivanka Trump is that we don’t have a clear picture of her qualifications or her actual views on a variety of issues that relate to women in general and working women in particular.
“I think what’s missing here is that if you want to put someone up in a position where she’s going to, in a way, represent the interests of women, I think the least you can expect is that they did their homework, that they listened, that they rolled up their sleeves,” Muchin said. “If I were her adviser, I’d tell her to hit the road. Go to as many cities as possible, listen to women, see if it’s even possible for you to be a reliable narrator for women’s stories.”
Muchin continued: “It’s easy to say she doesn’t deserve it, but I could easily push back and say, ‘Who among us does?’ But in this case, what offends me is not that she didn’t earn it, what offends me is I don’t see the intent. I don’t see her taking what I think would be the easiest steps in the world to try to actually get under some of the critics of her and work toward the authentic amount of information she needs. We don’t know even her point of view beyond a couple of headlines. She’s potentially going to have an impact on things at a granular level. What do you believe? What do you know? How do you know it? What work have you done? Who are you talking to?”
Barbara Mata, an artist and full-time manager at a chiropractic office in Newmarket, N.H., said this: “I was a working mother. I was a divorced mother of two boys, going to school full time and working full time and taking care of them. She doesn’t know what those kind of struggles are. How could she possible help us out? What kind of image is she projecting? It’s an insult to people who are working. It’s an insult to women who are trying to move up in positions and will probably never get into the White House. This is a woman who can’t possibly relate to the working female in America, to the average citizen.”
There are some who applaud Trump’s role in her father’s administration. It’s a tough issue to examine because it’s inextricably tied up with politics and ideologies.
But I think a critical takeaway is that we not let a person like her — someone rightly or wrongly saying she now has “a seat at the table” — become a sign that glass ceilings are being broken or that we’re a step closer to true gender equality.
This is a serious issue that demands attention, thoughtfulness and work. Perhaps Ivanka Trump will give it all those things. I hope so.
But if she expected women in the workplace to cheer her elevation to the White House, I think she’s going to find that respect is earned, not bestowed.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com.