Call me Scrooge in a skirt. No, it’s not Christmas that irks (I love it), but an upcoming day on the calendars of workplaces all across the country that must be the stupidest day of the year: Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. It’s ridiculous. Bah humbug.
This story first appeared in the April 13, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Why is this event the stupidest day of the year? Let me count the ways, while first acknowledging my own hypocrisy. When this event was a few years old, my daughter was on the early end of the age range it targets. For a couple of years, I took her and a few of her friends to work, not because I thought for a second they would, at the age of 10 or so, discover and embrace a lasting yen for adult work, but because I work in fashion and it would be fun.
Now for the wrongness of it all, which exists on two levels, macro and micro. Big picture: The day was founded on a premise both dated and discriminatory. It launched in 1993 as Take Our Daughters to Work Day with the idea of empowering girls by opening their eyes to a range of career opportunities. Really? Aside from the obvious flaw — if you want to see what an astronaut does, you’ve got to know an astronaut — were the middle- and upper-middle class adolescent girls of the mid-Nineties so restricted by gender that they deserved such preferential treatment? Weren’t a huge percentage of them the daughters of working mothers and thus born to the notion that women can work outside the home? They were being raised by working women — their nannies. (Just kidding.)
Despite early criticism, it wasn’t until 2003 that a gender-specific snow day resonated fully for what it was, a gender-specific snow day, and since then boys have been welcomed into the career-discovery fold. One issue out of the way. But another remains. Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is at its core elitist, assuming access to white collar work environments that some children, often those who could most benefit from such a field day, don’t have. While some programs encourage taking children from various community organizations, that’s clearly not the thrust, leaving millions of kids out of the loop. Those are the social issues.
As for the micro issues, the suggested participation age range is 8 to 18. It’s safe to say that by the time they’re high school juniors and seniors, most students have outgrown the thrill factor of coming to work with mom or dad, though some may invoke the day as a way to go AWOL without repercussion. Then there’s the issue that not all jobs are equal, certainly not in the minds of middle-schoolers. Before the days of elaborate human resources-run programs, Taking Your Daughter meant having her hang out at your heels or taking the planning into your own hands and orchestrating a bunch of fun stuff with which she could go back and impress her class. I recall the daughter of a renowned orthopedic surgeon, a spinal specialist who helps people walk again, asking grumpily, “What am I supposed to do, go look at X-rays?” Conversely, my daughter and her little gaggle stopped by at a photo shoot where they saw a real, live model and then spirited off to “market appointments,” where they met funny, flamboyant ladies (Donna Karan, Cynthia Rowley, Patti Cohen) who design beautiful clothes and are famous. OK, Patti doesn’t actually design and isn’t famous outside of fashion, but she’s really nice and cool and has beautiful red hair.
Another year, either I didn’t Take My Daughter to Work or I dumped her with someone else, because Taking My Daughter interfered with my work. It was 1999, and the Arnault-Pinault wrestle over Gucci raised speculation as to whether, should Arnault win, Tom Ford might take a powder. (Amusing notion, that Arnault would trigger the exit, no? But I digress.) I decided to go to the Gucci store to ask customers whether they’d still shop were Tom to leave. Among those I approached well before 3 p.m. were two quite young shoppers, early- to mid-teens. I asked how they happened to be out and about during the school day. “It’s Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” said one. “My mom works across the street, but we wanted to come here.”
Some dads are named A-Rod and some moms, Kelly Ripa, and on a given work day, what they do holds considerable fascination for a lot of children and teens alike. But not so the day-to-day minutia of what most parents do on the job. Corporate law? God, to a 10-year-old, school must be more fun. And yes, as these are places of work, at times, kids can get in the way. Thus Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day evolved into a major initiative run by h.r. departments whose staffs tirelessly devise and implement flashy programs to which the various age ranges can relate, or not.
Take it from a teacher. Shoshana Cooper is a fourth grade teacher at Greenacres, a public school in Scarsdale, N.Y. Last year, her son went to work with her husband at a major corporation. “They were both a little disappointed,” she said. “There was a set program, so there was little father-son bonding. He had a nice time, but what he experienced had nothing to do with what my husband does.” I’ve spoken with a few other teachers, some of whom said interest in the day has waned, but that at its height, it disrupted the classroom.
Which is not to say that all student exposure to career situations is misguided. Cooper notes a program within the Scarsdale school system by which students in grades 10 through 12 take on internships as part of their courses of study.
And there’s the Cristo Rey Network, comprised of 17 Catholic high schools in low-income urban areas, its overall student body 95 percent of color. Its tag line is “Schools that work,” because they do, and so do the kids. All students go to work not one day a year but five days each month at partnering companies, earning money toward their tuition. According to the network’s Web site, 100 percent of last year’s graduates were accepted to two- or four-year colleges.
Hmm. A student works, likely at less-than-fascinating, perhaps menial but essential tasks, to earn money to help finance an education that may facilitate entrée for her or him into the white-collar world that, unlike the vast majority of kids who will flood work places on April 28, is not her/his birthright. Not a stroll through Gucci during the school day, but not bad.