If you’re looking to set up on your own and need career inspiration, here’s a newflash: The Trump women are not your role models. Yes, we know they’re all over news, and we know they seem to rake in the profits. But look a little further:
We may be too eager to frame every rich businesswoman as a role model
Sad truth: The business industry is still a man’s world. So when we hear of women amongst the entrepreneurial elite, we celebrate them, from those who reigned in the public eye like Oprah Winfrey and Coco Chanel, to Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Anastasia Tjendri-Liew (Bengawan Solo). Who struggles to fit on that list though? The Trump women – First Lady Melania and First Daughter Ivanka. In their defence, the duo are business moguls in their own right. Melania once owned jewellery and skincare lines, while Ivanka’s exhaustive list of credentials include being Executive Vice President of the Trump organisation’s real estate biz, while helming her eponymous fashion line. But even if both hold prominent positions in the White House, there are reasons we should hold off on hashtags like #girlbosses for them.
The total disconnect of Ivanka, and the realities of business
Intelligent, beautiful and successful, Ivanka clearly won the genetic lottery. Now serving as advisor to her father, the eldest daughter of the President has positioned herself as an advocate of female empowerment. Case in point: She helped launch the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (also known as We-Fi) – a $1 billion plan to provide funding for female entrepreneurs in developing markets (Worldbank). And then, she published “Women who work: Rewriting the rules of success.” Oh dear. Where do we begin? This book is supposed to be a guide for career women, but has about as much practical use as a waterproof teabag. Her suggestions for “architecting your lives” (yes, the language is that pretentious) include learning how to “prioritise your passions”, by managing your time through rigorous discipline. It’s like she’s Sherlock Holmes or something! Even worse, the book clearly demonstrates Ivanka’s total disconnect from real world working women. In a now famous excerpt from her book, she shares that her survival mode sacrifice during her father’s election campaign, was not “treating herself to a massage”. Want another sign? Consider how she described the having her kindergarten-age daughter swing by the office: “She came into the office—she prefers my ‘pink’ Ivanka Trump office to my real estate one, in part because it has a kid’s desk that folds out of the wall, complete with treats, toys, coloured pencils, and markers”. Bet all you businesswomen have that in your office! Along with, you know, a caretaker to bring your kindergarten-aged daughter to work at lunchtime. Surely, she’s knows what a struggling mumpreneur with two children and a side-job goes through, eh? But how about we get to the secret of her success? “You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear.” This kind of platitude isn’t just useless, it’s aggravating. Imagine telling a struggling business woman, on a shoestring budget who’s trying to raise a child, that she’s “choosing” fear and failure. Unsurprisingly, Ivanka’s value as a business guru has fallen flat with critics and readers alike; hosts from The View called her book “tone deaf”, while The New York Times described her text as “painfully oblivious…and mostly composed of artless jargon”.
A total lack of business acumen
Melania is no better. Although she helmed a range of businesses and has spoken about the empowerment of women, she discredits herself with her antics. Earlier this year, she faced accusations of monetising her position when she filed (and won) a defamation lawsuit against Daily Mail’s ‘escort’ allegations (BBC). But nevermind that, here’s most evident sign: Melania’s caviar-based skincare line. First, there’s no actual proof it works. From the above link: “Caviar in skin products is a really interesting ingredient, partially because I’m not actually sure what it is, and I’m not sure anyone does,” New York-based dermatologist Sejal Shah told me. “The fluid around the egg has fatty acids, proteins, and amino acids that could benefit the skin. But the issue is that it’s not a regulated ingredient, so there’s no way of really knowing”. But rather than commission independent studies – the sane thing for a business to do, given the unproven product – Melania jumped straight into marketing. We never even got to the consequence of this mad move. The company collapsed a year later, because according to Melania: “I got a lot of bad responses back from my fans that they are trying to buy the skincare line, and it is not available… And they were saying I should fire my team… this is not how business is done, and they were blaming me. They were blaming my brand, and I had nothing to do with it. I was pushing it… [and] the product was nowhere to be found.” As it turns out, the business partners she picked were, in a word, sordid. The resulting lawsuits were a swamp of accusations, from demands of sexual threesomes to asset mismanagement. Melania’s “business record” is a bizarre chain of tabloid stories, that reflect a questionable business acumen. Her main “talent” seems to be leveraging her celebrity status to push products. We have a term for that: it’s not businesswoman, it’s celebrity sponsor. A strong role model for business women is someone with grit, and who understands the troubled waters female entrepreneurs navigate to get to the top – neither of whom are Melania or Ivanka. Look beyond the White House, ladies.