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Taking your kids to work

Eve Troeh May 4, 2012

Taking your kids to work

Eve Troeh May 4, 2012

Tess Vigeland: Most young kids in school aren’t thinking about the job market. But last week more than 30 million of them did go to the office with mom or dad. It was the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The workplaces children see today reflect some big changes in the economy since the event started 20 years ago.

Marketplace’s Eve Troeh took her microphone to one office to find out more.

Eve Troeh: The tech company Belkin has a big, glass-plated building in Southern California. It looks even bigger if you’re only four feet tall, as many of the visitors were last week for Take Your Children to Belkin Day. Belkin makes digital accessories: Computer cables, surge protectors, cell phone chargers. Over breakfast, parents tried to explain their work.

Colin Greenidge: I’m Colin Greenidge and these are my three daughters.

Cali: My name is Cali and I’m 10.

Ariana: I’m Ariana and I’m 12.

Mia: I’m Mia and I’m 7.

Troeh: So why did you want to bring them to work?

Greenidge: Dad disappears in the morning and comes back in the afternoon. They have no idea what goes on in between. I’m a mechanical engineer, I’m part of the engineering group that looks after case products.

Troeh: Do you know what your dad does all day at work?

Ariana: It seems like he gets the work done and has fun at the same time.

Troeh: Do any of you have any ideas about what you want to do when you grow up?

Cali: I wanna be a vet.

Ariana: I wanna work for Cirque du Soleil.

Greenidge: And notice nobody wants to be an engineer yet!

Ariana: That’s my second choice.

This idea of taking your kids to work for a day started with Nell Merlino. Two decades ago, the Ms. Foundation asked her to come up with a program to encourage girls to pursue careers. She says on the first Take our Daughters to Work Day 20 years ago, there were few women in their own offices. Most of them sat outside an office answering phones or typing. She says it was good for girls to see that.

Nell Merlino: I so distinctly remember a story of a woman who turned to the girls at one point — who were fascinated with what she was doing — and she said to them, “Don’t do what I did.” And they sort of looked and said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Don’t not finish school.” Because she hadn’t finished school and was stuck in a clerical position. So there were lots of interesting lessons for girls.

Since then the day has evolved. Under some political pressure it became Take Our Daugthers and Sons to Work Day. Meanwhile, though, more women than men are going to college. And more women are earning more than men, too. Merlino is now focused not just on getting girls interested in going to work, but in achieving financial independence.

Merlino: Pew did a survey and the young women they interviewed, more young women than young men talked about wanting to make a good living.

And Merlino says she’s seen a big change in how children see their parents make a living. More of them see their parents switch companies, change careers, get laid off and increasingly, go to work as small business owners.

Merlino: We’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of women who go into business for themselves or create a company than go onto create jobs for other people. That is a situation where girls learn an enormous amount, particularly if the business starts in the home. Because they really understand sort of how the sausage gets made, because they’ve watched mommy do it.

Many big companies cut back on programs for Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Tight times, no budget for those family lunches. But Merlino says more families are taking their children to work everyday, as the economy transitions toward more entrepreneurship.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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