Daughters at work

April 28, 1993

Too often for comfort, parents and teachers notice disturbing phenomenon among girls when they reach adolescence. While many boys seem to blossom, equally energetic, self-confident girls lose their ambition and, it seems, a good bit of their self-esteem. No longer do they dream of becoming anything they want. More often, their main concerns are fitting in, finding acceptance, not standing out in the crowd. The result is that too many girls settle for too little as women.

That is not good news for the American economy. According to the Ms. Foundation, women will soon be filling two of every three new jobs in the work force. The preparation and motivation of those new workers will have tangible effects on productivity and quality of work.

What can be done to counter the social pressures that eat away at girls' self-confidence and help, instead, to nurture those childhood dreams through the storms of adolescence? As part of the answer, the Ms. Foundation for Women has proclaimed today as "Take Our Daughters To Work Day." The purpose is to give girls ages 9 through 15 a sense that the world of work is one in which they can be "visible, valued and heard" -- a world in which they too can succeed.

The effort is important for individual girls. But it can benefit families as well. Parents can imagine what school days must be like for their children, but few adolescents know much about how their mothers and fathers spend their time at work. A glimpse at their working lives can open new lines of communication. Parents who toil at low-wage jobs can use the day to demonstrate to daughters why they want a better life for their children. Mothers and fathers who are happy with their work can show their daughters that there is great satisfaction to be found in a job well done.

This aspect of today's exercise is especially important for

working mothers, who often find that in balancing the demands of work and family they fail to convey to their daughters the enjoyment they find in their work. Jill Ker Conway, the former president of Smith College and editor of "Written by Herself," has said that working mothers tend to tell different stories about their work to their sons and daughters. Sons get more stories about the exciting things that happen at work. But, she says, "They tell their daughters how tired they are."

One day, one national project, can't change the pressures that make girls wary of ambition and success. But it's a start, one well worth making.

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