On-the-job training: Letting girls, boys learn value of work


April 11, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

If you want to get a quick overview of a woman's place in the work force over the last 25 years, you might start by recalling some of the book titles that appeared during that time.

Let's begin with a 1968 book whose title said it all: "How to Go to Work When Your Husband Is Against It, Your Children Aren't Old Enough and There's Nothing You Can Do Anyway."

Moving right along we encounter the following titles, which, like signposts at a crossroad, give us a sense of the route traveled by working women:

"The Woman's Dress for Success Book."

"Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to Executive Manners."

"The Right Moves: Succeeding in a Man's World Without a Harvard MBA."

"Corporate Romance: How to Avoid It, Live Through It, or Make It Work for You."

"Too Old, Too Ugly, and Not Deferential to Men."

"Feminine Leadership: Or How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys."

"The 9 to 5 Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment."

Given such titles, I suppose you could say: We've come a long way, baby.

And given such titles, I suppose you could also say: Not nearly long enough.

Which brings us to this question: Are today's girls more prepared to enter the world of work than in the past? Given the fact that by the end of the century, two of every three new workers are expected to be female, it's a question that needs asking.

The Ms. Foundation for Women thought so, too, and came up with this answer: Girls headed for the workplace still have a lot of catching up to do. Particularly when it comes to building up a sense of self-worth and confidence about their value in the work they choose to do.

To help girls between the ages of 9 and 15 feel more confident about their abilities and less intimidated about the office setting, Ms. Foundation is sponsoring on April 28 a project called Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

The idea is for mothers, fathers and other interested adults to take a girl with them to work. By making girls in this age group feel included in the work world, the Ms. Foundation believes, you can help dispel the message society still gives to them: that their lives should focus around boys.

Girls, particularly, need to be told they are important, Ms. Foundation believes, because research shows their self-esteem and expectations diminish drastically when compared to that of adolescent boys.

There's a lot to be said, of course, for the idea of taking our daughters to work with us -- on any day, not just April 28. Opening a window to the larger world is one of the basic functions adults are supposed to perform for society's young people.

But the concept of a Take Our Daughters to Work Day has the earmarks of being a gimmick. It doesn't really address some of the more crucial questions regarding work and the way it is viewed -- not only by girls but by boys as well.

In fact, I think a case could be made that we need a Take Our Sons to Work Day even more than a Take Our Daughters to Work Day. For at least two reasons:

1. Despite the research that claims boys grow up with a self-confidence that eludes adolescent girls, boys -- particularly those who are not college-educated -- seem to be in as much trouble as girls when it comes to being productive workers. Much of the research claiming girls are being left behind seems based on children from well-to-do and well-educated socioeconomic groups.

2. If today's girls are to become full players in tomorrow's work force, then boys need to see women on the job as managers, bosses, colleagues. In other words, they need to grow up accepting women in these roles.

But there are even more important lessons to be learned about work than those concerned with gender advantages or disadvantages.

Both girls and boys need to understand what work is and what it isn't. They need to learn that work is a traditional value, one that connects us to the larger community with its requirements of responsibility, commitment, individual industry.

But we also need to teach boys and girls that work is not an entire identity. That a person is not just a byproduct of what he or she does for a living.

I hope that on April 28 many girls do spend a day on the job with an adult. But I hope equally as much that there is at least one adult in their life willing to spend a day with them at home.

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