Is 'Take Your Child To Work Day' Necessary Anymore?
On the first ever Take Your Daughter to Work Day in 1993, Alan Harrison made his 10-year-old daughter Bryn strap on goggles and tour the Florida Power and Light Plant. Bryn had always wanted to be a teacher like her mother, but her father had spotted her great math scores, and wanted to expand her thinking.
Twenty years later, and Bryn Harrison is a pharmacist for Walmart. "I think it made a big impression on her," her dad told AOL Jobs about that day, when he first exposed her to a career in the sciences. "She's thanked me many times, for my career, and engaging her in it."
The Ms. Foundation founded Take Our Daughters to Work Day to expose girls to careers that they may not have considered, because they had long been dominated by men.
Since sons were added to the program in 2003, however, the message has morphed. "Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day" is less about empowering girls to shake up gender roles, and more about getting kids to think about their futures, and dream big.
But in today's job market, this new project may not make a lot of sense. It might even hurt more than it helps.
The original Take Our Daughters to Work Day "spoke to a deep concern parents, teachers and employers have about the future for girls and women at work," Nell Merlino, the day's creator, told Forbes. In 1993, a third of married women with children didn't work, and so many girls were raised by a female role model without a career. Women were also largely stuck in lower-paying professions; the average female worker made 68 cents to the man's dollar.
So the day was mostly fathers escorting their daughters into a male world of work, and sending them the message that it was not only open to them, but that they were wanted there. The Ms. Foundation even proposed (but never actually created) a complementary "Son's Day," where boys would spend a day at home -- cooking, cleaning and learning about sexism, according to the book "The War Against Boys."
Many criticized Take Our Daughters To Work Day for excluding boys from a neat opportunity (to check out a parent's career, and skip a day of school), and in 2003, the program went co-ed. But Ms. Foundation still sticks by its original message. The day is a chance for girls and boys "to dream without gender limitations," its website says, and to "learn that a family-friendly work environment is ... not just a woman's issue."
But that isn't what the day means to most parents and children. It's usually seen as a way to give kids a taste of what their parents do, and inspire them to think about their careers.
But there are a couple problems with this. One third of American workers don't clock in at 9 a.m. in offices -- they freelance. "We haven't seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy," writes Sara Horowitz, the founder of Freelancers Union, in The Atlantic.
New technologies allow companies to hire people when they need them for specific projects, and free employees to take on multiple clients and work on their own time. For millions of Americans, their kids coming to work would involve them hovering around a laptop. So bringing children to a single physical workplace may actually mislead them about the future of work.
Freelancers aren't the only ones excluded from Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. When Julie Drizin didn't bring her children to work one year, they told her the classroom that day was half-empty. "Which students were left behind and why?" she asks on the Journalism Center on Children and Families website.
The Latina-immigrant waitress who works 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $5.50 an hour probably isn't taking her kids to work, she says. Neither is the Ghanese-immigrant home-health aide, who doesn't want to inspire her kids with "emptying bed pans, mashing medications and bathing dying men." Americans working on factory lines, manning the floors of Walmart, or emptying the trashcans of office buildings are probably leaving their children at home. As will the millions of Americans who are unemployed.
Take Your Daughters and Sons To Work Day, she writes, has become "a feel-good exercise for the privileged."
This wouldn't be true if the message of the day changed, and it became about children appreciating how hard their parents work to feed them, clothe them and buy them stuff. It might even be better, Drizin suggests, if the children of the privileged spent a day shadowing a person with a low-wage service job.
So perhaps we should all celebrate a version of "Son's Day" instead, where children see the kind of grueling workday most Americans have, and learn about class issues in a modern capitalist society.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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