Editors note: This story has been updated to note that President Trump, while running his real estate businesses, had promoted several women to high-ranking positions. In addition, a portion of the story was removed that discussed the impact of Trump's trade policies on women-led companies.
Trump was taking her first crack at diplomacy abroad in her new role as assistant to the president, vowing at a women's economic conference in Berlin to create “positive change” for women in the United States.
“He encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,” she said on a panel with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and other female leaders. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and my own tenacity.”
Miriam Meckel, editor of the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche, noted the audience’s response of groaning and hissing and asked Trump whether her father is actually an “empowerer” of women.
“I've certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that's been perpetuated,” Trump said on the panel, “but I know from personal experience, and I think the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women.”
President Trump was widely criticized during the campaign after a 2005 tape surfaced in which he talked about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission. In a 2004 interview, Trump, then a businessman with no ostensible presidential ambitions, called pregnancy an “inconvenience” to employers. But the real estate magnate has also invested a lot of authority to women leaders working in his company and had promoted several female executives to high-ranking positions, which is unusual in the commercial real estate business.
Ivanka Trump, who moved into her own West Wing office last month, advocated for gender equality during the campaign and is now working to overhaul the nation’s child-care system. Her visit to Germany comes a week before the release of her advice book, “Women Who Work.”
Her father has called her the mastermind behind his paid maternity leave proposal, unveiled last September, but the White House has made no moves on the family leave front since Trump took office.
The U.S. position on paid maternity leave stands in sharp contrast with Germany's, where mothers are entitled to take six weeks of paid time off before the birth of a child and eight weeks after an infant arrives. (The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not offer any paid leave to new parents.)
Ivanka Trump had aimed to use her appearance in Berlin to talk about boosting female entrepreneurs.
Venture capitalists poured $58.2 billion into U.S. companies with male founders last year, while women received a comparatively measly $1.46 billion, according to data from the venture capital database PitchBook. (Less than 10 percent of VC-funded start-ups are run by women, according to the Harvard Business Review, and firms owned by women make up 38 percent of the business population.)
Still, studies find female entrepreneurs in the United States are better off than those in most other countries. This year, Mastercard’s Index of Women Entrepreneurs put the United States in third place for female entrepreneurs, behind New Zealand and Canada.
The authors, however, highlighted a persistent challenge: “In the United States where the underlying entrepreneurial conditions and women’s advancement outcomes are among the best in the world,” they wrote, “women’s entrepreneurial advancement is held back by the lack of" opportunities to expand their companies overseas.
Fiona Murray, the associate dean of innovation at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said the uncertainty clouding international relations, driven by Trump’s “America first” rhetoric, could exacerbate the problem. She pointed to Trump’s executive order last week calling for a review of the H1-B visas for highly skilled workers.
“That makes it difficult for any entrepreneur to think about an appropriate internationalization strategy,” Murray said. “Can you hire the people you need to hire? They need highly specialized talent, and that talent comes from all over the world.”