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The Brazen Careerist

Disrupting 'Take Our Children to Work Day'

April 24 is the Ms. Foundation's Take Our Children to Work Day. Hundreds of companies across the United States, including many of the Fortune 500 will participate in this event.

I wish I didn't have to bash the Ms. Foundation because it takes action where no one else will, but I'm afraid that this newest event is a little misguided. When it was Take Our Daughters to Work, the goal was to get more women into the work force. Girls went to work for a day to learn about workplace opportunities so they could make good choices for themselves.

Today, women comprise 50 percent of the work force, but they make up less than 10 percent of senior management. This falloff is due to, in general, when women have kids, they drop out of the fast lane, and when men have kids, they have a woman to raise them.

Take Our Children to Work Day attempts to draw attention to this problem. The Ms. Foundation says that the presence of kids at the office will draw attention to corporate policies that do not accommodate people who care for kids.

So basically, it's like having a war protest that gridlocks San Francisco, except instead of lying down in the street yourself, you tell your kid to lie down. And bonus: The kid gets to miss a day of school.

The new Take Children to Work Day in effect uses kids as a means of protest and activism. I hope that this year millions of kids flood the halls of corporate America in a sort of sit-in (play-in?) that halts business for a day. But I hope that future protests do not require such blatant co-opting of kids.

In fact, I have a new idea for a Ms. Foundation event: Take Care of Your Kid for a Week. It's an event for CEOs. Their wives (it's a wife, in almost all cases) take a holiday (maybe a Ms. Foundation cruise?) and the fathers try to balance kids and work for a week.

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Co-workers can help by calling meetings for kid-unfriendly times such as 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. -- something that surely the CEO has done himself.

All those new, corporate governance boards can help, too. While reformers are ranting and raving about CEO compensation, they can also get in a jibe about this new Ms. Foundation event. The reformers legitimately can put pressure on CEOs to participate in Take Care of Your Kid for a Week because studies show that companies that enable women to move up in the management chain are companies that perform better for shareholders.

Surely after a week, these CEOs will have a little more insight about why there is no diversity in their senior management teams. And maybe, after a few years, CEOs will start making it possible for women to raise kids and stay on the fast track.

There is no easy answer, but there are other countries trying to come up with answers. The French workweek is legally shorter than the U.S. workweek. The Norway gender wage gap is almost non-existent because of national day care. I am not saying these are solutions for our problem, but they are places to start. We need to start trying something new before another generation of women is locked out of the corporate power seats.

So this year, take your kids to work and hope they disrupt the workplace enough to call attention to the goals of Take Our Children to Work Day. But next year, let's hope for a better plan of action.

-- Posted: April 14, 2003
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