It’s been over 25 years since the first Take Our Daughters to Work Day event in April 1993. Since the event’s inception, the lives of millions of girls have been impacted by the simple concept: One day a year, daughters (and, since 2003, all kids) head into the workplace with parents, grandparents and even family friends to learn more about career opportunities and better understand the struggles of women in the workplace.
Nell Merlino is an artist who ran a communications firm and served as a consultant to the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1993. Take Our Daughters to Work Day was her idea. As a creator of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, Merlino says there were two pivotal moments that inspired her proposal for the event.
“Seeing the NYC subway system — it’s very crowded with adults at rush hour — but at 3 in the afternoon, it’s always packed with kids coming from school,” she recalls. “I thought, what would happen if the train at 9 am was as filled with girls as the train at 3 pm?”
This vision of subway cars filled with young girls was something Merlino hoped would educate girls on where they were headed and show older generations just how many young women were about to enter the workforce for the first time.
“I was reading all of the statistics in the early ’90s from the Department of Labor that were talking about what they expected to happen: That one in three workers would be a woman or a man of color,” Merlino tells Yahoo Life. “I had this realization of this change in demographics that was coming that you didn’t see reflected in the workforce yet.”
The idea for the event fully came together as Merlino sat at her father’s retirement dinner and realized how many people in the room she had met as a child who had made a major impact on her life — all of whom she had met through her parents’ workplaces.
“I was working on the proposal for the Ms. Foundation then,” Merlino shares. “I literally went home from that dinner, got on the train from Trenton to New York City and wrote five pages.”
Although Merlino came up with the idea, many people at the Ms. Foundation aided in the perfection of the program before it went live to the world. She says one collaborator, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, read a one-page proposal for the initiative, said it was “really good” and made an important change.
“She changed Take Your Daughters to Work Day,” Merlino recalls. “She crossed out the ‘Y’ and said it had to be our daughters, for all the women who don’t have children. [She was] always finding ways to be more inclusive — that’s her at large in everything she does.”
Merlino worked directly on the ideation of the event. Sara Gould, former president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation was the director of the foundation’s economic development program at the time, and recalls being thrilled about the success of the event even early on.
“It was to be a pilot program in New York City that first year,” Gould says. “Nobody really knew if the idea would catch on, however, there was a small piece Gloria Steinem got into paradeand we began to get contacted by women around the country.”
According to Merlino, Steinem’s piece was handed to parade publisher Walter Anderson when the pair met for lunch. At the time, the magazine had a circulation of 33 million readers. After the story was published, the Ms. Foundation received over 10,000 letters about Take Our Daughters to Work Day.
Gould, who would go on to work at the Ms. Foundation for almost 25 years, vividly remembers that time in 1993, when the solo fax machine in the office was inundated with requests. “We did it for many years — it was an extremely popular program — and you know the biggest question associated with the program for many years was, ‘What about the boys?'” Gould says. “Our answer to that was that the boys have it every day. This was one day for the girls to experience what work life is like and to be focused on as girls.”
In 2003, before Gould became president and CEO of the organization, the event was changed to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. No matter the name, Gould says the main goal remained to permeate popular culture and ensure as many girls as possible had the opportunity to take part in the experience.
“We felt best was when the conversation was still going about what the issues were for girls joining the workplace,” Gould explains. “How do we have a day to excite the girls who take part? To excite them to think about education, work and what they want to do? To bring them closer to their role models and encourage interaction between parents and daughters? That’s why we really started the program — to get a conversation going about girls and work.”
Gould helped orchestrate the event for many years and recalls that helping so many girls discover a love for their future careers brought everyone involved a tremendous amount of joy. “We were delighted at the foundation that it was such a home run,” she says. “We know that it influenced the lives of millions of girls.”
Gould says it wasn’t the type of work that mattered: Girls in diverse communities with different backgrounds and circumstances were exposed to all different career paths across thousands of industries and that was what the organization prioritized.
“Another thing we were very proud of,” she says, “is that it reached girls across the economic spectrum and all across the racial and ethnic spectrum. Immigrant girls, girls living on Native American reservations… I think we were able to make it a very broad-based program.”
Today, the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation, a non-profit organization that carries out the mission of event founders, reports that more than 40 million youth and adults across four million workplaces have participated in the iconic day.
Crystal King, founder of Amazing Baby and mom of two, vividly recalls how her Take Our Daughters to Work Day experiences shaped her confidence and career. “I remember how special I felt watching my father, a cardiologist, proudly introducing me to his patients,” says the Orlando, Fla. entrepreneur. “[He would] carefully explain what instruments he was using and why. His patients gave me permission to listen to their heartbeats and my confidence blossomed.”
King says the experience still impacts her to this day. “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is a wonderful catalyst for the greater conversation about confidence, value and purpose that should take place throughout a child’s life,” she says.
“Over the years, those experiences where I felt valued and my questions were validated made me feel that I was competent and able to crush any career path I set my sights on,” she adds. “This invincible feeling is critical for girls, especially girls that looked like me — girls of color. As you dip your toe into STEM and other areas of discipline where the players look less like you, you may start to second guess whether you should be there at all.”
Dylan Murray, a Larchmont, NY father of two girls ages 1 and 5, is a general contractor and owner of Murray Craft Builders. Murray has been looking forward to taking his 5-year-old daughter, Harper, to work this year for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, and he’s not the only one who’s excited.
Murray says Harper has been asking about the special day for months. “This is the first time we will be celebrating the day together, although she is my little helper for DIY projects around the house,” he says. “She is a great listener and likes to understand how things work.”
Due to her promising skills, Murray made sure his little girl was ready for duty around the house and for her first time on the job. “I got her a little pink toolkit that she absolutely loves and the tools actually work,” he says. “She also has her own mini power drill. Of course, safety is a top concern and she has safety goggles, gloves and a mask. I have noise-canceling headphones for her as well.”
Most of all, Murray says he can’t wait to show his daughter the important roles women can hold within the building industry. “I’m looking forward to introducing her to some of the architects and interior designers I’m currently working with — all of whom are female,” says Murray. “We have an all-female team at one of my jobs … doing plaster and paintwork for the interiors and she will meet their leader.”
“It’s important for my daughters to see women can do anything,” he continues. “I have an almost 2-year-old little girl as well and I also try to include her in projects around the house. I grew up in my dad’s carpentry workshop and learned many important skills, so I want my girls to have that same opportunities.”
For Merlino, an idea she had on a nighttime train ride has become a beloved event with a reach well beyond any one foundation or organization. This year, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day falls on April 28, and, in addition to getting kids acquainted with their parents’ jobs, a virtual event offered on the big day will stress the importance of things like bullying prevention and education planning .
“I cannot tell you how many women I meet now who tell me they chose their career based on what they saw on Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” Merlino shares. “It still makes me squeal. It feels pretty extraordinary that it continues to inspire people.”
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