In 1993, the Ms. Foundation came up with Take Our Daughters to Work Day. The idea, as explained to me, was to give girls greater exposure to career opportunities and to boost their self-esteem. The premise was that girls tended to receive less attention than their male siblings.
I remember the first several years of TODTWD. My firm brought in clowns, face painters, local celebrities, even zoo docents (me) with animals. There were coloring contests and other planned activities, and it was the one day when Mom would forego her calorie consciousness and take the children to McDonald’s for hamburgers. None of the parents got much work done, and the childless among us (me again) braced for six hours of constant noise, interruptions, and childish chatter. I recall the daughter of one of our attorneys making colored marks all over paper; I told her, “Wow, that’s exactly what your mom does all day.”
In short, the girls, many eight years or under, must have come away with the idea that “work” means face painting and other kinds of fun.
By 2003, the original purpose of TODTWD had become lost or irrelevant, and our sons were now included. With the passage of time at my new employer, I noticed that this had become less and less structured, until even the coloring contests were no more, or at least were not promoted. The children come in and meet other children, chase each other around, play on the computers, and color on their own. This year, a coworker’s nephew made us personalized door hangers.
In other words, the children still don’t really understand what their parents do, other than sit at desks, working with phones and computers.
I’ve gotten the impression that this how the day goes at other corporate offices, that it’s increasingly downplayed, and that it seldom lives up to its purpose. I also can’t imagine that this event is widely implemented in non-offices or in more hazardous white- or blue-collar settings. Do night-shift emergency room nurses bring their children to work? Nuclear power plant workers? Sawmill workers? Stevedores? Airport security personnel?
I suspect that TODASTWD boils down to a day spent in an office rather than at school, a feel-good opportunity for office workers to show off their children to their coworkers and their offices to their children. Some parents may explain to the older children what they do, but for the most part the children seem to play and socialize until they get bored.
If the Ms. Foundation wants to make the day educational and meaningful for the daughters and sons, I have some ideas for structured activities. The day itself is the last Thursday in April, so now is not too early to begin planning.
- Invite the children to a two-hour department meeting where many carbohydrates and fats are served and where, after much wrangling and tension, nothing is decided.
- Have the children join their parent for a weekly project status update with the boss so they can witness the humiliating consequences of not being able to read a superior’s mind.
- As an extra activity, have the children jot down every time the superior interrupts Mom or Dad to read personal email and take personal phone calls.
- Have Mom or Dad submit a small project that day so the superior can demonstrated the fine art of criticizing work that he or she cannot do.
- Make sure the children participate in an informal gripe session among two or more lower-level employees. Point out to them the furtive glances and the lowered voices, especially when Self-Important Leaders pass by. As a bonus, have the Leader stop and address someone in the group and have the children watch the attitude change instantly from sullen to solicitous.
- Do not offer them a lunch break. If the children are to experience corporate office life, they will need to get used to doing without food and breaks and to working through the day until at least 7 or 7:30 p.m.
- Be honest with them. Tell them that what they have experienced is what Mom or Dad faces every day until retirement or until those lottery numbers finally come through.
It seems to me that TODASTWD is the perfect opportunity to prepare the next generation for corporate slavery. It would give all those daughters and sons who are short on self-esteem and starving for positive attention something to look forward to.