Tomorrow is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work day and if you are thinking about participating (either for yourself or overall as an employer), I would encourage you to consider alternatives to the program.
In the past when I’ve talked about the issue, I’ve been accused of being a kid hater. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, kids can be an obnoxious liability when added uncontrolled in the work environment, but I do think children deserve an opportunity to learn about the types of careers that are available at an early age. It should be done in a way that actually accomplishes the goals of the program too.
What I’ve seen from most executions of the program though are bored kids, unproductive parents, and an opportunity sorely missed. And if we can’t do better than that, then we shouldn’t do anything at all.
Origins of the day
The day first started when I was in school as Take Your Daughter to Work day. It was a way to expose girls and young women to career opportunities that they might not normally learn about. Given that there was some controversy about only allowing daughters to participate, the program was eventually expanded to include sons as well.
I went to two of these days as a teen-ager: one with my mom (a legal assistant at a law firm at the time) and one with my step-dad (a regional manager of a video chain). I was bored out of my mind at my mom’s workplace. Even if I had interest in the law, there was no way to learn about it there because the matters were too confidential. I practiced typing on a spare computer and helped put together manila folders for filing.
My step-dad’s workplace was more interesting but for all of the wrong reasons. They had video game systems in many of the stores at the time and we got to drive around to different places. The only thing I did that was close to work related was going through the racks and making sure everything was in alphabetical order. When I later worked there as a teen-ager during school, I was amazed to find that the job was even more boring than before.
Organizing Take Your Child To Work Day
When I became an HR professional and people started asking about bringing their children to work, I remembered the experience I had when I was a kid. My argument always was that if we truly believed that it was a program worth supporting, then we should really put together a customized program that exposed the children to many different aspects of the business.
In my years of working on the program, we did the organized thing once and it worked out fairly well. The kids spent about 15-30 minutes in every department, a person was appointed to speak to the children and answer any questions, and they did a short activity while there. After they went through all of the departments, they could pick one area to go back to after a lunch with their parents for a bit more intensive experience.
On the other occasions, we had an unorganized event that went about as well as could be expected. The kids were bored, the parents were busy worrying about their kids, and the opportunity and promise that the event held was surely missed. In the post mortem of the event, I advocated that we either do something real or do nothing at all. When we did nothing, it was unpopular to a few folks but a majority appreciated it in light of the unorganized events they had seen in the past.
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Consider some alternatives
While the take your child to work day is a good idea, I think there are some other ideas that can be even better at achieving the end goal of educating children about career opportunities.
One of the problems with the program is the limitation to children of employees. While that bonding time with the parent is good, it also limits the opportunities that kids have to explore career possibilities.
I didn’t want to follow in any of my parents footsteps and didn’t have many resources to explore career possibilities until late high school and college. Employers should be partnering up with schools to do everything from tours (for younger children) to hands-on, one-on-one experiences (for older ones) with those who are interested in the field.
Partnering with high school-based vocational programs is another opportunity that goes beyond taking a child to work. For example, the vocational program in my area has spent years building partnerships with local businesses and giving them opportunities.
And if exposing children to career paths outside of typical gender roles is the goal, a more targeted program can be even more successful. At a previous job, we had work days coordinated with local schools and churches that sought to bring in those from outside our typical employee profile and have someone on hand to talk about the job that they can better relate too.
In all three of these instances, the children were incredibly engaged with the program and it felt like a better use of resources than a day simply devoted to bringing your child to work. If you are considering starting, continuing or spending more time on a take your child to work program, I would encourage you to explore better alternatives to the program first before jumping in with both feet.