Her White House role is still in flux.
What does it mean to be a powerful woman?
That’s the question of the moment as Ivanka Trump, clearly the most influential woman in Donald Trump’s orbit, begins to provide a hint of the role she will play in his administration.
On Tuesday Ivanka Trump revealed that she will resign from her management and operational roles at the Trump Organization and her eponymous fashion brand. The move comes on the heels of news that her husband, Jared Kushner, accepted a job as senior advisor to the president-elect. The couple’s steps to distance themselves from their business holdings—Kushner will also stand down as chief executive of real estate giant Kushner Companies and publisher of the Observer—appears to be an attempt to comply with ethics laws.
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We know where this leaves Kushner, assuming his advisor role survives potential challenges over anti-nepotism. But what about Ivanka Trump?
While a lawyer working with the family says the President-elect’s daughter will not immediately take a formal role in the Trump White House, it’s clear that she will have an enormous amount of influence. Not only does Ivanka have the ear of her father and her husband, but she will gain another powerful ally with the addition of Goldman Sachs partner Dina Powell, who is reportedly joining the administration in a job that will “focus on entrepreneurship, economic growth, and the empowerment of women.” Trump is said to have sought advice from Powell well before news of her new role broke on Wednesday.
As I wrote in Wednesday’s edition of The Broadsheet, Fortune‘s newsletter about the world’s most powerful women, I’m disappointed to see Trump exchange her very visible role as businesswoman for a vague, informal role in the Trump administration. We have seen too many women sacrifice their careers in favor of those of their husbands. Even as Ivanka Trump gains power behind the scenes, it stings to watch her cede the official advisor role to Kushner. After all, her forthcoming book is called Women Who Work, not Women Who Whisper in the Ears of Powerful Men.
Not everyone sees it this way. Upon reading the newsletter, Pattie Sellers, who co-founded Fortune’s Most Powerful Women franchise and is currently executive director of our family of Most Powerful Women Summits, was quick to call me up and strongly disagree.
“Ivanka Trump, by giving up her business ties, is positioning herself to have extraordinary influence in the Trump White House,” says Sellers. “She genuinely cares about empowering women financially and in other ways, and I think she’s smart to trade one type of power and influence for another.”
She has a point, of course. It would be naive to think that the current arrangement will shrink Trump’s actual power—indeed, her backstage roll at the White House puts her in position to have a far greater impact on the world than she could ever have at any real estate or fashion company.
Still, I believe the optics of her decision are important. So far, Donald Trump’s White House is sorely lacking women (his cabinet includes just four—the smallest share of any administration in the past 20 years). Powell’s appointment is a step in the right direction and hopefully there will be more to come. In fact, while it seems highly questionable that anyone in Donald Trump’s family should become a senior White House advisor, if it has to be someone, why not Ivanka?