In her book Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules of Success, Ivanka Trump writes that changing “the narrative around women and work once and for all” has become her life’s mission. With this book, she purportedly hopes to “provide solutions” for women who have jobs and personal lives. “Like you,” she ends her introduction rather pithily, “I’m a woman who works—at every aspect of my life.” But if Ivanka is a woman who works, then who are the people who thought of the “solutions” that Ivanka borrows and sells as her own? At whose expense does Ivanka profit?
Numerous reviews of the book, including that of Jezebel’s Stassa Edwards, note that Women Who Work is more of a trophy for Ivanka than it is any sort of useful text. In it, she speaks directly to women who are like her: wealthy, with resources, in a job with enough flexibility and stability that calling a meeting with your boss to say you just have to leave the office at 5 p.m. to care for your children is enough to engender permanent mutual respect and a livable work-life balance. But the book is also a brazen work of aggregation, in which Ivanka patches together the careers of a group of professional coaches, psychologists, and prominent motivators to create something that is somehow less than the sum of its parts; a cheapened, superficial Pinterest board of ideas, bound together by little other than the fact that Ivanka has decided that they support her personal brand.
The book doesn’t claim to be something it isn’t. Towards the beginning, she writes how much she respects the writers and thinkers who have delved into what it means to be a professional woman—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Brigid Schulte, and Sheryl Sandberg top the list. And then she writes:
Inspired by these women—and bolstered by conversations I’ve had, and those happening around me—I’ve curated my best thinking, as well as that of so many others, in the pages of this book. I’ve gathered the most important and essential advice that we shared on IvankaTrump.com, plus my favorite books, TED Talks, podcasts, and other resources to help women come together to celebrate how we can achieve success on our own terms, measured by our own individual passions and priorities.
Of the 70,000 words in her book, almost 23,000 (approximately 33 percent) are, literally, not her words—that is, they’re quotations or bulleted guides from another writer. There are, by my count, 468 source citations at the back of the book, and CNN reporter Betsy Klein counts over 130 names referenced at some point throughout. And these aren’t regular academic citations that work together to form a new, original thesis. Instead, Ivanka cites frequently and heavily, often using uninterrupted paragraphs from other books, in places she could easily paraphrase or draw from her own life.
At one point, she references the story of a former Senate staffer, except she doesn’t tell her story—she lifts it almost verbatim from Lean In:
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells the story of Cynthia Hogan, who “served as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under then-senator Joe Biden before leaving in 1996 after her first child was born. Her plan was to return to the workforce a few years later. But when her second child was born prematurely,” Sandberg writes, “those plans changed. A full twelve years later, Vice President-Elect Biden called Cynthia to ask her to join his staff as chief legal counsel in the White House.” She wasn’t sure “whether she could manage the long hours in the White House and still see her family. . . . ‘I knew that whether this would work depended on two men. So first I asked my husband if he could step in and take on more of the responsibility for the kids. . . . And then I told the Vice President-Elect that I really wanted to have dinner with my kids most nights. And his response was, ‘Well, you have a phone and I can call you when I need you after dinnertime.’ . . . Being forthright led to opportunity.”
There are at least two instances of the book lifting language without proper citation, as far as I could tell. Ivanka writes about preparing to speak at the Republican National Convention, and offers “a few strategies I employed,” that others with public speaking engagements can use. In the tips that follow, she uses language identical to language published on Wharton professor and author Adam Grant’s blog in 2014, republished on HuffPost in 2015, and partially republished as a “cheat sheet” on IvankaTrump.com in February 2016. (Bolding is mine.)
From Women Who Work:
PRACTICE IN FRONT OF PEOPLE: Classic studies by the late Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc demonstrated that the mere presence of other people raises our awareness. If you practice alone, you won’t have a chance to adjust to that factor. When practicing for the RNC, I lined my kids up on the couch and made them listen to me countless times! Rehearse over and over again, out loud. If you keep stumbling on the same sentence or word, change it.
From Grant’s blog:
2. Practice in front of an audience. When I rehearsed my early speeches, I delivered them solo. Classic studies by the late Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc demonstrated that the mere presence of other people raises our arousal. If you practice alone, you won’t have a chance to adjust to that arousal.
Several lines down, in a tip called “RENAME YOUR ANXIETY ‘EXCITEMENT,’” she goes on to quote Grant, but not a quote that appears in that blog post. The initial post is not cited, but the IvankaTrump.com condensed reprint is, in the Notes section at the end of the book.
The second instance also involves one of Grant’s blog posts, but is slightly more convoluted. Grant published a blog post entitled, “Negotiating Your Salary Without Playing Hardball,” in February 2014 on LinkedIn. That same blog post was republished on IvankaTrump.com in September 2015, without any reference to the fact that the blog post had initially been published elsewhere. Then, in the book’s section on salary negotiation, Ivanka goes one step further and heavily quotes Grant’s negotiation advice. At one point, she abruptly stops quoting him and uses his language as her own.
From Women Who Work:
Advice seeking is a powerful way to have influence without authority. If you’re worried about seeming manipulative, Grant says, “It doesn’t work if it’s not authentic. When Liljenquist instructed people to use advice seeking as an influence strategy, their negotiating counterparts saw right through it. It was only effective when people were genuinely interested in learning from the contacts they sought out.”
In most situations, this strategy proves just as effective as hardball, and it’s much more comfortable to seek advice rather than issue an ultimatum. If it doesn’t work, you might have doubts about taking the job, at which point it may make sense to interview elsewhere. Once a comparable offer comes in, says Grant, “It’s still not necessary to play hardball. All you need to do is share the terms of the competing offer, and say, ‘I’d rather come here. Is there anything you can do to make this an easier decision for me?’”
More often than not, the answer is yes.
From Grant’s blog:
Advice-seeking is a powerful way to have influence without authority. If you’re worried about manipulation, I have some good news: it doesn’t work if it’s not authentic. When Liljenquist instructed people to use advice-seeking as an influence strategy, their negotiating counterparts saw right through it. It was only effective when people were genuinely interested in learning from the contacts they sought out.
In most situations, I find that this strategy is just as effective as the hardball approach. When it doesn’t work, people sometimes develop doubts about taking the job, and it becomes appropriate to continue interviewing elsewhere. Once a comparable offer comes in, it’s still not necessary to play hardball.
All you need to do is share the terms of the competing offer, and say, “I’d rather come here. Is there anything you can do to make this an easier decision for me?”
More often than not, the answer is yes.
Once again, the IvankaTrump.com article is cited in the Notes section, but the original is not.
In her acknowledgements, she thanks Grant, along with other IvankaTrump.com “Entrepreneurs in Residence,” Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, Rosie Pope, Samantha Boardman, and Alexa von Tobel, all of whom are heavily quoted throughout the book as well.
“[They] have all given their time, wisdom, and expertise, making this book materially better,” she writes, “and for that I’m forever appreciative.”
Neither Grant nor a representative of Ivanka has responded to Jezebel’s requests for comment.
Women Who Work doesn’t just take academic advantage of Ivanka’s contemporaries. It also coopts the stories of women doing actual work in service of Ivanka’s nonexistent thesis. The book tells the story of Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, as evidence of the profoundly banal observation, “Most women’s lives, past their early twenties, look more like a tree than a road.” Since the book’s publication, Saujani has explicitly condemned Ivanka’s use of her biography.
The publication Fast Company also took issue with Ivanka’s selective borrowing. In a blog post published on Friday, senior editor Kathleen Davis wrote:
We read your book, and we noticed that you (or your ghost writer) are a fan of Fast Company’s leadership content. (There are many citations from sources on the left and right, including one of our articles on public speaking, as well as the extended work of many of our contributors, including Gwen Moran, Laura Vanderkam, Gretchen Rubin, Jessica Hullinger, and more).
“There are a few articles you’ve seemed to miss that you should really read given your role in the White House,” the post continues, citing pieces on universal childcare, paternity leave, and the gender leadership gap for women of color.
Chimp researcher, conservation activist, and Trump critic Jane Goodall also condemned the book’s use of one of her quotes, (“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”)
“I understand that Ms. Trump has used one of my quotes in her forthcoming book,” she said in a statement to the Washington Post. “I was not aware of this, and have not spoken with her, but I sincerely hope she will take the full import of my words to heart.”
“She is in a position to do much good or terrible harm,” the statement continued. “I hope that Ms. Trump will stand with us to value and cherish our natural world and protect this planet for future generations.”
But setting aside the issue of ideological cherrypicking and research practices that veer rather close to plagiarism, is there anything wrong with Ivanka publishing what amounts to a scrapbook of her favorite quotes? Not intrinsically, really—in this era of publishing, there are likely plenty worse offenders out there. But then we remember her massive advance. Ivanka was in an official governmental role at the time of the book’s release, so she promised to donate the unpaid portion of her advance ($425,000, according to multiple sources), as well as future royalties, to various charities. Given the structure with which book advances are usually paid out, the New Republic estimates that her advance was probably somewhere around $850,000, meaning she already pocketed another $425,000, for doing little more than pointing her finger at work that had already been done and saying, “Look, this is good.”
So much of the Trump empire in general is based on the reappropriation of other people’s work. Since becoming president, Donald Trump has taken credit for job growth set into motion during the Obama years; for investments that companies committed to independent of his policies; for the country’s nonexistent optimism. The same is true for Donald’s businesses—from Trump Steaks that are actually produced by Bush Brothers Provisions Co., to Trump Airlines, a fleet of Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727s with a “TRUMP” painted across the side, to Trump buildings in which his involvement is limited solely to licensing his name for the gold façade—the Trumps tend to do business by slapping their infamous name over labor performed by others.
Both Donald and Ivanka seem to believe that every thing is at once fodder for them to co-opt for personal gain, and evidence of their own righteousness. It’s the ultimate gluttony, and one that the Trumps seemingly have no issue indulging in—to know yourself to be unable to contribute meaningfully to growth or improvement, but to be unable to resist forcing yourself into the narrative. To buy the whole scrapbook and draw yourself into the sides of the photographs, to say that you were there doing good work all along, too.
In a section of the book on delegation, Ivanka recommends a good rule of thumb: “If you really can do something better than anyone else and it’s important to the business, then do it yourself. At the same time, don’t do anything that someone else can do better than you.” In a sense, Ivanka took her own advice—or, at least, she took the advice of an unnamed “finance billionaire” who first taught her the importance of delegating. Ivanka wasn’t the best person to write a book advising other professional woman, so, essentially, she didn’t.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Betsy Klein counted 280 people in the book; in her article, she writes that she actually counted over 130 people. Jezebel regrets the error.