by Jess Waters
NOW Communications Intern
As the fifth celebration of the annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day approaches, organizers at the Ms. Foundation are busy gearing up for the popular April 24 nationwide event. This year's theme is "Five Years of Work Towards a Lifetime of Confidence."
"We're very excited about the fifth anniversary benchmark of the program," said Lauren Weschler of the Ms. Foundation. "We're looking to involve as many young girls as possible and to spotlight the positive effects that the program has had on girls."
Initiated in 1993, Take Our Daughters To Work Day is a public education program sponsored by the Ms. Foundation and supported by NOW members across the country. The program is designed to combat the significant drop in self-esteem that often plagues girls during adolescence and to expose girls to positive role models who could serve as mentors.
On the fourth Thursday of every April, girls coast to coast accompany an adult mentor into the workplace. The girls spend the day shadowing the mentor -- be it a parent, relative or friend -- and learn about the opportunities open to women in various fields. Another long-term goal of this event is to help girls feel "healthy, confident and strong as they enter into womanhood," Weschler said.
Take Our Daughters To Work Day has grown dramatically since its inception. A 1996 Roper Starch poll found that 16.6 million adults said that they or their spouses personally took a girl into their workplace during the 1996 event. This was an increase of 7.6 million people from 1995.
In an effort to showcase strides the program has made, a national search for participant stories is underway. Past participants should submit stories to the Ms. Foundation by April 7. Six of the best stories will be featured in a national press release, and the winners will be flown to New York City or Los Angeles to go to work with a surprise celebrity mentor.
Take Our Daughters to Work Day promotes an idea that NOW advances for all girls: You can be anything you want to be.
"When girls see their mothers, aunts, sisters and mentors in empowered roles, then they understand what is possible for them -- everything!" said NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey. "This single day becomes important for an entire lifetime, and we all benefit."
According to a study published in 1992 by the American Association of University Women, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," such intervention into the lives of young girls is desperately needed. The study found that girls receive "significantly less attention from teachers in the classroom than do boys." Testimony from young women backs this up.
"Every day we are in school with boys who dominate situations; teachers call on them more; they get more recognized for sports and other situations that put the girls at a disadvantage and give boys an advantage in the future," wrote Emily Goldfrank, 14, in a letter to the Ms. Foundation.
Additionally, the AAUW study found that boys are encouraged more often to take high level math and science classes and, once in those classes, continue to receive more teacher attention than girls. As a result, the boys tend to have more confidence in their math and science abilities, and consequently more pursue higher education in those fields.
To address such educational inequities, programs like Take Our Daughters to Work Day refocus attention on young girls, celebrating their intelligence and abilities and encouraging them to follow their dreams.
"I dream of becoming President of the United States," said Erin Ferris, 12, a participant. "I know, because of Take Our Daughters To Work Day, that my dream is possible."
While critics of the event argue that the day should be open to boys as well, the Ms. Foundation has decided to keep the day reserved for girls because girls need -- if only for a day -- the extra attention they may not receive the rest of the year. Dedicating a day to girls assures them that they, and their dreams, are important to all members of the community, according to the Foundation.
"Every time we try to do something just for girls there is an outcry, so we have to make people see the big picture," Dempsey said. "Dads have been taking their sons to work for years to establish bragging rights and let the boys see what they can be and do when they grow up. Girls need that opportunity, too. In fact, we need to practice this every day of the year and not just one."
One participant, 13-year-old Reneques Allen, said a day to themselves "makes us feel good." And Christina Taliaferrow, also 13, said her participation has boosted her self-confidence to the point where "I speak out on issues" that she would have previously avoided.
Further information is available from the Ms. Foundation at 800-676-7780 or http://www.ms.foundation.org/. Past participant stories should be mailed to Take Our Daughters To Work Day, PMI Station, P.O. Box 3537, Southbury, Conn. 06488-3537.