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This article written by Phyllis Maguire was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on April 21, 1999. All rights reserved.
Special Day for Daughters
by Phyllis B. Maguire
The Princeton Township mayor will again participate,
adopting a daughter for the day (her own two are grown) from the John
Witherspoon Middle School. Area companies have hired tour buses for
the day, packed treat bags, and lined up caterers for the breakfasts,
lunches, and ice cream socials they’ve planned. And auxiliary activities
have been spawned: earlier this week, the Central Jersey Women’s Network
hosted its second annual "Take Our Daughters to Network" dinner
for high school girls, with roundtable discussions about different
industries led by local women business leaders.
It is Take Our Daughters to Work Day, being celebrated this year on
Thursday, April 22. Established in 1993 by the Ms. Foundation, the
event was initially launched to help bolster the self-esteem of adolescent
girls by letting them experience first-hand — and free from boys
— the different career paths now open to them. Only New York companies
participated that first year, but in the six years since, Take Our
Daughters Day has gone national — and taken on a life of its own.
Thousands of companies across the country now host an estimated 15
"This has really become an American institution," says Kelly
Parisi, a publicist for the Ms. Foundation in New York. "This
is truly a publicly-owned, community-owned day. Different places adapt
the program to meet their needs."
Princeton is no exception. Some businesses keep to the event’s original
intent, restricting participation to girls. But more have opened their
programs to not only employees’ sons, but in many cases, their nieces,
nephews, and neighbors’ kids as well, turning a feminist project into
a rare chance to incorporate — even if for just one day —
children into workplaces from which they’re almost universally excluded.
In the process, the event has become a welcomed opportunity for adults
to act as mentors and an enthusiastic introduction for children into
the world of work.
Take Our Daughters Day was — and still is — intended as "an
intervention," according to the Ms. Foundation’s Parisi. It was
a response to the analysts’ findings, including those of Harvard psychologist
Carol Gilligan, who — in her 1982 book "In A Different Voice"
and in subsequent writings — detailed how adolescent girls lose
self-confidence and authenticity. Research showed that girls get slammed
with the message that their value is limited to their sexual appeal,
leading them to suspend their intellectual or political leadership
at a time when male contemporaries are discovering the world to be
"This is a very critical time for them," Parisi says, speaking
of girls ages 9 through 15 for whom the day was designed. "It
is very important for them to be told by adult men and women that
they are valued for their minds and that they must be engaged in their
own futures." She points out that boys also suffer a crisis of
confidence — but earlier in childhood, giving them a different
developmental timetable. While the Ms. Foundation has worked with
several organizations, including the Oakland Men’s Project in California,
to help design activities to provide guidance to boys, it believes
that Take Our Daughters Day should belong to girls alone.
"To throw them into a program for girls doesn’t help boys —
and really shortchanges the girls," says Parisi. The controversy
over whether to include boys has been present since the event’s inception,
and some parents who at first strongly supported an inclusive program
have since switched back to girls-only. "They saw firsthand what
happens to their daughters in the classroom when they get around boys,"
Helping fund Ms. Foundation’s marketing of the event
are corporate allies, corporate supporters, corporate friends, and
additional funders — but above them all, only one corporate leader.
That is Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals, the Raritan-based prescription
drug and contraceptive giant. Ortho-McNeil started out as a founding
sponsor, and while it won’t reveal what it pays for its corporate
leader slot, it does host an elaborate day for 400 of its own daughters.
The Ortho-McNeil program addresses more areas of the girls’ lives
than just their future professions, giving workshops on self-defense,
self-esteem, and health and wellness, as well as on product design
and sales, journalism, video production, and Web design.
In addition, women speakers from throughout the corporation and its
sister companies — Ortho Biotech and R. W. Johnson Pharmaceutical
Institute — speak to the girls about their specific areas of corporate
It remains a girls’-only event for Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis
L. Marchand, who relishes the activity-jammed days she spends with
her adopted middle-school "daughters." She is not troubled
by the fact that, for the several years that she’s observed the program,
she has yet to adopt a student who’s a boy.
"We still have a long way to go, especially in the political arena,
for women in higher office," she points out. That sentiment is
shared by the Division on Women in the state Department of Community
Affairs, which, until this year, helped organize the day’s activities
for state employees and their daughters. While they never turned sons
away, according to division director Linda B. Bowker, they had no
problem with the day’s original intent.
"The day was developed so that girls could see role models in
non-traditional careers," Bowker says. "When you put boys
and girls together of that age, the boys tend to take over." The
day has been such a success over the years that it has grown beyond
the Division on Women’s organizational umbrella. Each department now
plans its own activities, giving parents more of a role hosting their
children and allowing young participants to learn more about specific
Merrill Lynch, with almost 3,000 employees in the Princeton area,
wanted to both keep the focus on girls and extend the program to employees’
sons as well. It solved that dilemma by establishing a mirror program
for boys another day of the year, keeping the fourth Thursday every
April dedicated to girls’ role models and career opportunities. This
year’s theme is "What You Can Do," a program that includes
motivational speakers — athlete Donna Lopiano of Women’s Sports
and actress Irene Ng of the television program, "The Mystery Files
of Shelby Woo" — as well as a Young Entrepreneur’s Workshop
led by Jyoti Chopra of Merrill Lynch’s Education Services. The company
expects to host 300 daughters this year, up from 200 in years past.
"More and more people are interested in the day as an important
educational tool," says a Merrill Lynch spokesperson. It is so
educational, in fact, that many companies, instead of holding separate
events for boys and girls, throw open their corporate doors to what
has widely become Take Our Children To Work.
In smaller companies, Take Our Children Day remains very casual. At
Capital City Ford in Lawrenceville, for instance, with 56 employees,
the event was first commemorated last year when one of the salesmen
brought in his son. Helping his father take customers out for test
drives, the boy also learned about the detailing and service departments
and may be back again this year. Any employee who wants to bring in
a child is welcomed to do so, according to Joe Triboletti, one of
At the other end of the spectrum is the very crowded day being organized
at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the fusion research facility
on the James Forrestal Campus. A program has been devised for employees’
children to choose where they want to spend time; favorite areas of
interest are information services with graphics and digital photography,
and the computer-aided design and drafting division.
But those children who come will also get to participate in a concurrent
event: Pollution Awareness Day, with 700 students from nine different
area elementary and middle schools taking part in interactive displays
and poster contests. It is a way of opening up its Take Our Children
Day program to include the much larger community and educational mission
PPPL has adopted.
"We have not just an opportunity, but an obligation to be a good
neighbor," says Anthony R. DeMeo, head of PPPL’s information services.
"We are a unique facility and we have people who are very strong
in science." That mission has led PPPL to host the very popular
Science on Saturday series, as well as a program for the winners of
New Jersey’s science fairs. And while PPPL encourages more participation
by girls and women in science and wants to attract a diversified group
of scientists, the laboratory believes it should present science as
a career option for all children, rather than restrict its educational
activities to just girls, even for one day.
"Science education is very important," DeMeo says. "Children
may not choose a career in science simply because they were never
exposed to science."
Other companies have likewise adopted an inclusive educational mission
for Take Our Children Day. But instead of exposing children to the
world of science, they use the day to initiate children into the world
of the gainfully employed.
Allowing children to learn what’s involved in a business has personal
significance for 41-year old Tom Moonan of the Hibbert Group, the
direct marketing and fulfillment firm in Trenton. Along with his brother
Tim, who is 39, Moonan is Hibbert’s co-chairman, the third generation
to head up the business that was founded in the 1880s and taken over
by the Moonan family in the 1930s. When they were children, the two
brothers were brought to the plant on Saturdays — along with their
five other siblings — by their father, who was then company president.
Childhood explorations turned into jobs as teenagers in the shipping
rooms and warehouses. Their mother, Joan Moonan, now the company’s
chairman emeritus, stayed very involved.
"What we saw was the importance of commitment, how much time you
have to put in to keep the business going," says Moonan. The Trenton
Hibbert headquarters, with 500 employees, annually hosts between 60
and 85 sons and daughters of employees.
"We understood the intent, but we also felt it would be beneficial
for all children to know what their parents did," says Gwen Bolger,
Hibbert’s director of human resources. Her comment underscores one
of the factors contributing to the popularity and inclusiveness of
Take Our Children To Work Day: it is an opportunity to break down
the almost complete segregation of children from the physical space
and endeavors of their parents’ professional lives. In many cases,
boys have been included simply because they have no other opportunities
to get acquainted with that hugely important portion of their parents’
The children attending Hibbert’s event don’t stay with their parents;
instead, planned activities keep the children away from the company’s
extensive machinery — forklifts and cam jacks in the warehouses,
and letter inserters and collaters in the direct mail departments.
In the morning, buses take the children among Hibbert’s several buildings
where they tour different divisions and put together a mailing to
send their parents. In the afternoon, the middle school children learn
about marketing and more in-depth information on the company, while
all of the participants practice job-related skills like conducting
a job interview and writing job applications.
Job skills are part of the day’s agenda at Caliper, the personnel
assessment firm located on Mt. Lucas Road. The company opens the event
to not only sons and daughters, but to employees’ relatives and neighbors’
children as well, ages 5 through 16, bringing inclusiveness to the
event for adults as well as for children. For several years, Caliper
hosted only 20 children, although last year participation jumped to
almost 50. The fact that its owner, Herb Greenberg, is also part owner
of the new Trenton basketball franchise, the Shooting Stars, may be
contributing to the day’s appeal.
The children tour the company in the morning, following the process
that treats Caliper’s personnel assessment test, and then it’s lunch
outdoors under a lawn tent, a setting that has proved to be a boon
for younger children. In the afternoon, groups alternate between learning
about communications and the Internet from Patrick Sweeney, the public
relations director, and building houses together out of colored straws,
an exercise in team-building and cooperation.
About 50 children attend the day’s events at Covance,
the contract research organization that has 900 employees in the Carnegie
Center. The morning’s activities feature a scavenger hunt where children
must find their way around offices and equipment, having to bring
in a photocopy, for instance, and pick up a mock paycheck. Then the
children sit in on a video conference connecting four Covance offices
across the nation and in England, learning about the technology that
makes such a long-distance meeting possible.
After lunch, they break up into different workshops to learn how to
get a job at Covance, with tips on how to conduct a job interview,
write a resume, and attend a mock job fair. Then it’s time for a fashion
show of different business dress codes, before the day wraps up with
an ice cream social, complete with a survey for the children to fill
out, to let the organizers know what to bring back next year.
"If you just give them lectures about joining the workforce, you’re
going to lose them," says Alicia D. Plaag, Covance’s employee
services coordinator. The key to a successful day at the office for
children is interactivity, and a proven favorite is the disposable
camera given to each child to take pictures while they’re there, the
pictures becoming mementos to take back to their classrooms.
A few area companies have temporarily suspended their Take Our Children
event: the Gillespie Organization, the Princeton Pike advertising
agency, saw the age of its daughters shift too significantly toward
preschool. And Stark & Stark, the law firm at 993 Lenox Drive with
170 employees and 60 attorneys, has shifted into a much lower key
for the event. Take Our Daughters Day is now an "ad hoc" event,
according to Bonnie S. Brenner, director of human resources.
"Most of the daughter who came were younger and weren’t really
interested in what attorneys do," she says. "Most of their
mothers were attorneys, so it wasn’t new to them." And, Brenner
says, the event has fallen victim to another sign of the times: making
the workplace more child-friendly year-round. Since Stark & Stark
permits employees to bring their children to the office on snow days,
for instance, "they’re here all the time," Brenner says. "For
them, it’s just not that novel."
Day, call the Ms. Foundation at 800-676-7780, or visit www.ms.foundation.org.
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