I used to be a fan of Ivanka Trump. In a town where the masses live in loose fitting, dark-coloured suits, I chose to wear pumps by her label when running between meetings across federal agencies in D.C. I appreciated Ivanka’s combination of clean style, savvy marketing, and business acumen. And during the course of a bitter campaign, I came to respect the trust her tycoon father placed in her.
Now I just want Ivanka to go away. This week’s news about her West Wing appointment is just the latest reason to be furious at a White House that has become the playground for a family business. And I refuse to root for her just because she’s a woman. Feminist principles don’t make the case any better for Ivanka’s new (unpaid) gig; her working in the West Wing with a high-level security clearance actually undermines the work of countless women who had to earn their way to a position in the People’s House.
There is already a place in the White House for the president to access trusted family members; the entire East Wing and its staff is dedicated to the First Family’s pursuits of projects on behalf of the country. I would have welcomed Ivanka embracing the title of First Daughter, but the West Wing is rightfully reserved for non-family members, experts dedicated to their country and executing the president’s policy agenda.
Maybe I would feel better if Ivanka’s access to the president translated into positions of power for other women? All this talk of her influence is overrated. After all, this is the most male-dominated, least diverse Cabinet in 40 years. The Trump White House currently employs a shamefully low percentage of women; 30 years ago the White House represented the demographics of our country, with 52% women on staff, now it’s closer to one-fifth.
Oh, but Ivanka is there! As if her presence alone should be good enough for the 157 million women living in the United States. Women’s advancement isn’t simply about optics, it’s about what you do with your access. In the first 100 days, why haven’t we seen any executive actions that could be easy wins for the Administration and women? Instituting paid maternity leave for federal government employees would go a long way toward setting an example for the private sector. Ivanka is hardly the saviour for women the Trump White House would like her to be. Instead, she’s a crutch for a president — her dad — who can’t seem to trust experts or rely on those with actual policy experience.
Experience in the trenches matters when you are in the White House. I can say this because it took me 15 years of hard work and grit to gain West Wing privileges. The daughter of immigrants from the developing world, I grew up with an appreciation for the systems that helped make the American Dream a reality for my family. I wanted to work in government and help make equal opportunity a reality for others from an early age. When a summer internship on Capitol Hill turned into a job opportunity, I left college early just to get my foot in the door.
I spent holidays, nights, and weekends learning on the job how our democracy works, and where we can strive to make it better. Interacting with people directly affected by government policy made all the difference. And throughout my time in D.C., I’ve been surrounded by strong, passionate women who fight tirelessly to make this country a better place for its citizens. We entered government service for a number of reasons and with a variety of experiences, but we were united by one commonality: We have all done our best to walk in the shoes of people affected by U.S. policies.
In 2014, I landed a dream job at the White House thanks to my years of hard work. I understood that it wasn’t a permanent role — in every presidential election cycle, a whole lot of extremely well qualified policy experts, lawyers, and political professionals lose that coveted White House gig. I am fully aware of the serendipity of being on the winning team at the right time. But those of us who serve in government prepare our whole careers for just such a chance, to serve our president directly. It is a unique privilege — one that should be earned.
There is nothing about Ivanka’s path that can be replicated to bring up women in her wake. Nor is there a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps success story that can inspire others to be successful like her. Is it progress that the person the president of the United States trusts most is his daughter? No. Shouldn’t Ivanka or any woman in her situation take advantage of the opportunity? Nope. Government service isn’t about advancing yourself — or your latest product. It’s about using the position to improve the lives of multitudes of other people. If you can’t make the personal sacrifice that requires, you shouldn’t be there.
Welcome to the West Wing, Ivanka. You are joining a select group who have had the honour to serve in the People’s House. Now please dig in and use your considerable resources to help people outside of your family. You’ve got tough shoes to fill.
Nayyera Haq @nayyeroar is CEO of Avicenna Strategy, a public affairs firm helping non-profits and foundations. She previously served as a Senior Director in the White House and as a spokesperson at the State Department.