A very late commentary on Take your Daughter to Work Day

A few weeks ago was Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.  As some background if you’re not familiar with it, this began as Take our Daughters to Work Day in 1992.  The idea was that girls were not being exposed enough to careers and the workforce, so there would be a designated day when they’d go to work with one of their parents.  The supposition at the time was that this was less of an issue for boys, which seems credible.

Daughter of progressive parents, I participated in the first (or maybe second) Take Your Daughter day.  I went into Manhattan from suburban NJ with my dad on the NJ Transit train, and spent the day with him.  It wasn’t the first time I went into his office, but I vaguely remember being introduced to a few of his female colleagues, and their being a short talk about careers.

I remember thinking it was cool but that I still didn’t really know what my dad did.  As Arlo Guthrie said, “And he talked for forty-five minutes and nobody understood a word that he said. But we had fun fillin’ out the forms and playin’ with the pencils on the bench there.” (Spoiler Alert: he held a variety of technical sales and strategy roles for Teradata/NCR over his career.)

For me, just going into work with my dad wasn’t going to make or break my career plans.  It was the years of seeing both my parents work, and being asked about what I was learning in school, and of being encouraged to try increasingly challenging courses that had more of an impact.  It was the Eleanor Roosevelt quotation on our fridge (“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”) and the encouragement to be a woman but not to let that limit what I wanted that made more of a difference.

Not to say that I don’t believe in Take Your Daughter to Work Day.  On the contrary – I do, to the nth degree.  Because not everyone grew up in my household, and I’m sure it has opened myriad dialogues between parents and girls that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.  And let’s face it, It was fun to see his office and buy a bagel off a truck.

It was fun to spend the time with my dad.  For the child of two working parents, I spent a lot of time with them – we had dinner together every night, and we did lots of activities together on weekends (museums, parks, even a multi-year stint attending the opera).  But it was fun to experience his commute, see his office, meet his colleagues, and go through the whole day with him.

These days, the program has expanded to be Take Your Daughter or Son to Work Day.  That’s probably fair, and if I end up with children of both genders, I’ll want to include them both.  I just hope that doesn’t compromise girls’ experiences – this article suggests that the program is no longer feminist, but American. There’s also a foundation and consistent programming, and all the things that go along with grass roots initiatives turning into Foundations.

I read a lot of criticism about the program, too.  Some declared it classist, citing that custodians and factory workers aren’t eager to bring their daughters to work with them. Other articles represented the stay-at-home-parent perspective and the confusion over what to do in that situation.  Those both seemed to be reasonable responses that as a society we need to address. (In fact, Obama addressed the nation, asking people to bring kids from their community to their workplaces.)  But other articles indicated that it was an “outdated relic of 1970s feminism.” (Hello, have you been to Silicon Valley lately?)

Some of the other criticism I read is that while a woman would “love to have a show-and-tell with my 18-month-old at my family-friendly office” it would be short-lived and that he doesn’t really belong there. I agree. Your kid is 18-months old.  I didn’t bring my 2 year old to work this year.  Other people commented that they wouldn’t be able to productive with their kid there. No kidding.  It’s not a day about productivity.

One point of view that really got under my skin was commentary advocating a “leave your job at work” day as an alternative, stating that the bridge between work and home has narrowed, so her son already sees a lot of her work accomplishments.  She thinks the best thing she can do that day is come home from work and stop working.  I guess it depends what you’re trying to teach your kid, but there are plenty of other work days when you can do that  – this one is designed to show them what you do at work – when the are old enough to appreciate it.

Another article that got under my skin was about how a news reporter didn’t see a lot of value in her kids coming to work with her, and didn’t want them to become news reporters because journalism was a dying art.  I think she’s missing the point.  It’s just good for her kids to see her do her job where she does it – it’s not about whether they go do that job themselves.

Perhaps this summed up how I feel the best.  I didn’t like this article, because it was more of missing the point.  But one woman quoted in it said,

“Between the school vacations, parent-teacher conference days, completely incomprehensible no-school days, and sick days, my kids are regular fixtures in my office. The thought of taking them out of school for yet another day for this gives me hives.”

That did not resonate with me – who has their kids at their office that much?  But then,

Granted, she added, she’s not against the idea in general. “Exposing our kids to what we do when we are not driving them to practices, games, school, and making them dinner is an important and really valuable exercise. If you work in an environment in which you cannot bring your kids to work on a normal day, then it makes much more sense.”

Aha.

I am reminded of this video – I think I’ve posted it on my blog before, but I love it so much.  I have 1.9 kids right now, so I’m no expert, but I think what little kids (until they are teens?) want the most is to spend time with their parents.  And if work is 50 hours of my week, then taking my daughter to work with me once a year will be important to her, and not a sacrifice for me.

 

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