President Trump has more than the usual amount of turmoil on his hands this week, and 40 major business leaders are about to add fuel to the fire. They are set to deliver a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to fill the vacant position of Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues. In an interesting twist, they have copied one of the President’s top advisors — his daughter Ivanka — on the letter.
Over the Labor Day weekend when Trump floated word that he would deport 800,000 young immigrants who have been shielded by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy established in 2012. The blowback over DACA will most likely drown out publicity for the letter. That’s unfortunate because the letter seems less aimed at influencing Tillerson and more aimed more at prodding Ivanka Trump to act.
They write letters
The McClatchy news organization broke word of the ambassador-at-large letter last Saturday in the Kansas City Star. McClatchy reporter Katie Glueck was provided with a preview of the letter, which was unsent as September 1. It was organized last week ahead of a release date some time this week.
According to Glueck, the letter is signed by a laundry list of major business leaders including Aetna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson among others.
Interestingly, some of the signatories represent companies that do not lead the U.S. in terms of sheer size, but they do have high brand recognition, an association with upscale living and a strong identification with Trump’s home town and seat of business, New York City. Those include Macy’s Inc. and Godiva Chocolatier.
The purported goal of the letter is to ensure that the Secretary of State hears a strong message about U.S. priorities and women’s empowerment from the U.S. business community.
Here’s a snippet cited by Glueck (do read the full article for details):
We strongly urge you to quickly select qualified and experienced candidates for key leadership positions that focus on empowering women and girls globally…The swift nomination (and confirmation) of the Ambassador-at- Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State and the ongoing support for the USAID leadership focused on the empowerment of women and girls will help harness untapped potential as the U.S. seeks to achieve its foreign policy goals.
U.S. businesses and women’s issues
The Ambassador-at-large position is of particular interest to U.S. businesses that are striving to bring their overseas operations under the corporate social responsibility umbrella.
The need for global progress on women’s issues is especially urgent in the fashion industry, where women dominate the overseas factory force.
On the surface, it makes sense to cc Ivanka Trump on the letter. She fills triple duty as a family member, presidential advisor and businesswoman with significant overseas operations in the fashion industry.
However, in the context of Ivanka Trump’s track record this year, the cc seems more aimed at underscoring her failures than urging her to take the initiative.
So far Ivanka Trump doesn’t seem to have had much influence on her father over women’s issues, and her brand has been experiencing blowback resulting from her father’s policies during the 2016 presidential campaign and while in office.
Last week the Washington Post highlighted the disconnect between Ivanka Trump’s self-described life’s mission of “improving the lives of working women” and the reality of conditions for her workers in overseas factories.
In another recent development that resulted in a storm of criticism, last week Ivanka Trump issued a statement in support of her father’s decision to lift a requirement for businesses to provide a breakdown of employee salaries according to age, race and gender:
“Ultimately, while I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results…We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.”
AOL.com was among the many to twist the knife, observing that there was “no further explanation as to why the rule would not work” and that Ivanka Trump had “promised to fight for equal pay.”
Yet another point of embarrassment is Ivanka Trump’s position on DACA.
Internet sleuths have unearthed an article that Ivanka Trump shared on social media in 2015, months ahead of her father’s entry into the Republican presidential primary, which described how an undocumented woman from Mexico worked her way up from selling funnel cakes in Texas to a Wall Street career.
If Trump found that story inspirational and worthy of sharing, that sentiment has not provided her with the leverage to influence her father on DACA.
Some good news for the Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues — or not
The cc to Ivanka Trump is also interesting because Rex Tillerson has already stated that the position of Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues is safe.
That’s good news, considering that the position is a relatively new one. The State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues was established by former President Clinton in 1995. The ambassador-at-large position was not created until 2009, by former President Obama through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a recent letter to Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Tillerson stated that he would retain the position ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, though he would eliminate, reduce or combine about 70 other positions.
The bad news is that under Tillerson’s reorganization, the ambassador-at-large will report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, which is among the hundreds of positions that Trump has yet to fill.
The letter to Tillerson notwithstanding, there are no indications that the Ambassador-at-Large position will be filled any time soon either.
A call to action for Ivanka Trump
The letter to Tillerson was organized by the women’s leadership development not-for-profit Vital Voices Global Partnership, in partnership with CARE and Save the Children USA.
Vital Voices has an embedded interest in the Ambassador-at-Large position. Its co-founder and former chair and co-CEO is Melanne Verveer, who was the first woman tapped for the position by President Obama
Vital Voices also has a broader interest in preserving the State Department’s Office on Women’s Issues. That connection was highlighted earlier this year on International Women’s Day, when the not-for-profit tasked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with delivering the keynote address at its annual Global Leadership Awards event — founded by Clinton when she was First Lady.
As cited by ABC News, Clinton’s speech was a call to action:
“Our voices have always been vital but they have never been more vital than they are right now. Not just in far away countries but right here,” Clinton said at the annual event held at the Kennedy Center.
“And we are just getting started,” she added to applause.
Clinton also praised the women who participated in International Women’s Day, which she said feels particularly “significant” this year.
“International Women’s Day is always important but this year it feels even more significant,” she said. “A day to recognize that women have always been on the front lines of the most important fights unfolding around us.”
By cc-ing Ivanka Trump on the Tillerson letter, Vital Voices and its private sector partners may hope to spur Ivanka Trump to action.
If her record as an advisor so far is any indication, though, a tweet or two will probably be the only result.
Image (screenshot): via Twitter.