Sunday 20 August 2017

Ivanka's work/life balance

As the first daughter rewrites the rules for working women, our reporter asks if any of it is relatable - given her social status

Ivanka juggling work with her son on her knee
Ivanka juggling work with her son on her knee
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Ivanka Trump knows all about the unique challenges of being a working mother. During her father's presidential campaign, for instance, she couldn't even get a decent massage.

"During extremely high-capacity times, like during the campaign, I went into survival mode," she writes in her second book, released yesterday.

"I worked and I was with my family; I didn't do much else. Honestly, I wasn't treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care."

You can almost hear the conversation among Ivanka's public relations staff before the release of Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.

"She needs to be identifiable. Relatable. Real." Presumably nobody in the room mentioned her nanny, her stylist, her housekeeper or the small matter of her multi-million dollar fortune.

Following in the footsteps of Sheryl Sandberg - another woman with a vast fortune and a fleet of staff - Ivanka says she wants to "debunk the Superwoman myth" and "rewrite the rules for success". It sounds promising, but can harried working mothers really identify with someone who has a PA, a personal trainer and the use of a private jet?

More to the point, can they relate to a woman who has gone to great pains to make herself seem relatable? "I began to wonder," she writes later on in the book, "whether I had been doing women who work a disservice by not owning the reality that, because I've got an infant, I'm in my bathrobe at 7 am and there's pureed avocado all over me."

The subtext of this little vignette, in case you missed it, is that she is just like every other mother - a woman who doesn't mind "posting a photo that my husband candidly snapped of me digging in the garden with the kids in our backyard, my hair in a messy ponytail, dirt on my cheek".

It's a carefully cultivated, down-to-earth persona and it has earned her many new fans. Well, according to Ivanka anyway.

Reading through excerpts from Ivanka's new book, mostly written before her father became president, it becomes clear that she has eschewed what she calls her "more polished persona" in favour of a less pretentious and, dare we say, voter-friendly personality.

Ivanka, according to her Instagram page, is the type of mother who bakes cakes, but doesn't always get it right. "Baked a cake with the kids on Sunday for Theodore's birthday dinner this evening. Not pretty, but it will get the job done," is one such gem.

The type of mother who gets down on the ground to play with her infant even though she's wearing a fitted shift dress and four-inch red stilettos. The brand message is hands-on, humble and homey, if you can somehow overlook the designer wardrobe and the Pilates-toned arms.

"Together we will debunk the caricature of what it looks like to be a 'working woman'," she writes in her new book. Yet one wonders what exactly that caricature looks like in Ivanka's mind. Most working mothers have realised by now that the work-life balance is a constant challenge, and perfect parenting is a myth. Likewise, they know that the image of a stiletto-wearing high-powered business woman, carrying a baby in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, is nothing more than an Eighties film trope or a stock photo cliché.

Granted, many mummy bloggers continue to portray an airbrushed, Cath Kidston-style account of motherhood but this is slowly being supplanted by a new wave of mothers who celebrate their imperfect parenting and #parentingfails. It's relatable, identifiable and, crucially, marketable.

Ivanka Trump may think of herself as a crusader for working women, but her reinvention as a down-to-earth mother reeks of disingenuousness. As for the time she had to sacrifice massages? Most working mothers consider a long shower to be a treat.

The Trumpspeak translator

WHAT SHE SAID:

"If I can help celebrate the fact that I'm a super-engaged mom and unabashedly ambitious entrepreneur, that yes, I'm on a construction site in the morning and at the dinner table with my kids in the evening, I'm going to do that."

WHAT SHE REALLY MEANS:

I don't know how I do it either.

WHAT SHE SAID:

"I start making the rounds at 5:30pm to check in and announce that I'm going home as I leave. My team knows that I trust them to make the right decisions about how they allocate their time, and they would never abuse the privilege. They also know to expect emails from me at 11pm - and that I don't expect an answer at that hour, unless they, like me, leave early!"

WHAT SHE REALLY MEANS:

I have read and memorised Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.

WHAT SHE SAID:

"I wish I could have awoken early to meditate for 20 minutes and I would have loved to catch up with the friends I hadn't seen in three months, but there just wasn't enough time in the day. And sometimes that happens."

WHAT SHE REALLY MEANS:

I meditate.

WHAT SHE SAYS:

"By occasionally bringing my kids to the office, I'm sharing what I love to do with them but also sending the message to my team that I prioritise my family and they can, too. It doesn't just set the tone that kids are welcome; it acknowledges that having a family is a part of the fuller lives that we're all living, in the same way that we sometimes need to take a conference call on a Sunday or reply to emails late at night. So I say, take that call, have that treat. Make memories and make the time you have together count. It's good for you, it's good for your kids, and it's good for your company."

WHAT SHE REALLY MEANS:

I have no idea how the typical workplace operates.

Irish Independent

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