Marie C. Wilson and Ellen Galinsky

(WOMENSENEWS)–Tomorrow is the first-ever Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The name reflects a shift in emphasis from the enormously successful decade-long program sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women that referred only to daughters.

The new name grew out of he reality expressed in a recent bestseller, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” about Kate Reddy, a high-flying working mother. The novel’s half-ironic title invites readers to witness Kate Reddy jugglebeing an international hedge-fund manager, a caring wife with an involved husband and a devoted mother of two.

And, as it turns out, she can’t. Toward the novel’s end, Kate leaves her unusually fabulous job to stay at home with her children. In the epilogue of the book, however, there are hints that Kate is going to get involved in work once again, but this time on her own terms.

Why can’t even a women like Kate with so many advantages and so much help, have both a stimulating career in an important and successful company and a warm loving family life? Maybe because in Reddy’s company, one of the bosses called leaving work at 6:30 p.m., leaving at “lunchtime.”

Kate Reddy’s dilemma underscores that even the most privileged women often cannot take full advantage of three decades of progress for women. Things need to change–not just for women themselves, but men and employers as well. And for the vast majority of adults in middle- and low-income jobs, things must change a lot.

The good news is that change is in the air. A nationwide study conducted by the Families and Work Institute indicates that fathers are more involved and spending more time with their children than in the past.

Employers are changing too. The same study indicates more employees than in the past report that their bosses are supportive when family issues arise and fewer employees feel that they have to choose between their work and their family or personal lives.

Yet, as we all know and as Kate Reddy’s story illustrates, change has not happened as fast as is needed or as we would like. Most employed mothers and fathers struggle to manage everything they have to do and like Kate feel guilty and exhausted much of the time.

New Program Focuses on Expanding Options

That is why the Ms. Foundation for Women is retooling its program and including sons. Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work (SM) focuses on expanding future opportunities for all children, in both their work and family lives. The goal is to help create a future in which girls and boys can participate fully in family, work, and community–a future in which employers recognize that employees with a good family life are more productive employees.

After 10 years of the landmark Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work (SM) program, we’ve learned that to build institutional and cultural change, you’ve got to start early. And our children are right there, already envisioning that their work and family lives will be different. Additional research by the Families and Work Institute indicates girls and boys envision a future in which they are actively involved in all aspects of their lives. In fact, 81 percent of girls and 59 percent of boys say they will reduce work hours when they have children.

Take Our Daughters to Work (R) revealed to a generation of girls the changing career landscape that the program itself helped create. This year, Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work (SM) will include activities designed by the Families and Work Institute to help girls and boys, in conversation together and separately, share their expectations. Interaction and problem-solving games will bring out both girls’ and boys’ images of the workplaces they will enter and how they might integrate that with the families they already know they want.

We’ve found that companies seem able to hear from children what they sometimes can’t hear from adults. When daughters and sons ask, “Why are there mostly men bosses?” or “Can you have a family and work here, too?” companies will often ask themselves the same questions and even more change can take root.

We think this preparation and participation by a new generation of children will help revise the age-old, unwritten rules still governing work and family life. Then maybe Kate Reddy’s daughter will be able to do it–because Kate’s son will be doing it, too, and they will both be working for bosses who think this is a good thing.

Marie C. Wilson is president of the Ms. Foundation for Women and Ellen Galinsky is president of the Families and Work Institute.

For more information:

Ms. Foundation for Women–A new generation at work
“About Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work (SM)”:

Families and Work Institute–
“The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce”
(Adobe PDF Format):

Knopf–The Borzoi Reader Online
“I Don’t Know How She Does It”: