Why I Stopped Bad-Mouthing “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day”

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Apr 23, 2015

Today, April 23, is the fourth Thursday of the month, which means it’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (aka TODAS).

Kids will be trooping through workplaces around the country, sometimes hanging out with a parent but more often enjoying a busy agenda of carefully planned, hands-on activities.

I used to find the whole idea of this annoying as hell.

It was all about daughters at first

That’s because when TODAS was launched it had a slightly different name, with what seemed to me a much more compelling purpose. Take Our Daughters to Work (note: no “sons”) was launched, by the Ms. Foundation, in the early 1990s, at a time when the concept of women playing anything but supporting roles in the workplace had only recently evolved from novelty item to accepted-within-certain-limits. In those early years, “daughters” was the whole point.

Take Our Daughters to Work was about addressing self-esteem issues unique to girls. It had a secondary effect, as well, as then-president of the Ms. Foundation, Marie Wilson, pointed out in an NPR interview a few years ago:

The effects were explosive … the visibility of girls in the workplace showed up the invisibility of adult women.”

So for many years I felt that what employers quickly did, which was to add “sons” to the equation (they were not included officially until 2003), was missing the point. And on one level, I still believe that. But in another way, I get it.

For one thing, boys have self-esteem issues, too — and they drop out of high school at rates that are consistently higher than girls. Boys and girls both can benefit from being inspired by the potential for meaningful work. And by being exposed to careers they may not have known existed, well before making decisions about where — or whether — to go to college.

The positives behind TODAS

Plus, given the growing intensity of school in general — the mania of endless testing and school interviewing that can start as early as preschool (full disclosure: my daughter and I were interviewed for a preschool when she was, I kid you not, 18 months old) — this is one way to show our kids a little bit of forest instead of tree after tree.

Another, more practical point, is that chances are a special day requiring employers to invite girls to the workplace while excluding boys — and asking schools to forgive girls’ absences but not boys’ — was never going to fly.

Now, some have argued that all this is well and good, but surely TODAS only benefits a certain, small, possibly privileged percentage of children — those with parents who work for large, often corporate environments. (And, by the way, those whose parents are working, period.)

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it isn’t always. According the foundation that now runs TODAS , that’s where the “our” in Take Our Daughters and Sons come in: Employees who work for companies that offer this day are encouraged to consider bringing other people’s children, as well — maybe a nephew or niece, maybe a grandchild, maybe a neighbor, maybe a kid from a homeless shelter. (Yes, I admit that last is not likely to happen too often.) Not only that, but it’s a chance to give one’s own children a taste of how adults other that their parents earn a living.

The website suggests:

Your child might not want to go to your workplace every year for 10 years in a row. In that case, ask a friend or neighbor or family member who has a job your child is interested in if they would take him or her to work.”

Getting schools involved, too

The foundation also hopes that schools will get involved, not only blessing all those absences but incorporating related activities into their classroom work — thus involving kids who don’t have a workplace to go to. How often this actually happens is unclear.

A quick Internet search finds numerous school districts actually cracking down on the day, with notices saying they do not condone it and that absences will be counted. And in some places, controversy has erupted when standardized tests were scheduled for the same day.

But for all its promise and all its pitfalls, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day has become an important annual ritual at many workplaces, and I’d argue that employees benefit from this at least as much as children. Many organizations arrange elaborate activities, giving even employees who haven’t brought a child with them the chance to take a break from their daily routine and enjoy the satisfaction of some in-house volunteering.

Sure, it might seem like an annoyance to some, but I’d argue that for most people a day in which the daily grind is disrupted by an onslaught of excited kids provides a healthy dose of stress-release. It also does workplaces a critical service, by mixing up employees’ personal lives with their professionals ones — allowing, in the most concrete sense, employees to bring their whole selves to work. Which has to be good for everybody.

Does your company have an interesting way of honoring Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day? Don’t keep it to yourself; share it in a comment below!

This originally appeared on the Robin Hardman Communications blog.

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