Thursday is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, and, should this year's be like others, around 37 million parents will bring their kids to work with them.
When the Ms. Foundation for Women started Take Our Daughters to Work Day, in 1993, the idea was to help boost girls' confidence and to link education to work opportunities. I don't know if the day helps accomplish that goal or not. But if you participate, your kids will probably get a chance to see you argue -- or at least debate -- with another adult.
This is a good thing. They need to see this.
At some companies, of course, the kids are so chaperoned, often by HR, that they won't get any sort of idea of what you do all day. At one company I worked for, kids who came to work were brought to a conference room at about 11 am, where they were directed in supposedly work-ish activities involving balloon animals.
That's just like work here at Inc., obviously. Crayons and balloons, day in, day out.
But at some companies, the kids do actually shadow their parents for most of the day. If you work at or run one of them, Thursday presents a unique opportunity.
It's not just that your kids may have no idea what you do all day. (One of my kids refers to Inc. as "the writing place," which I guess is a start). It's that, if you're a woman, your son or daughter has probably never seen you out of mom mode. They probably don't know you have another mode. Or that any mom -- or woman -- does.
When I refer to mom mode, I essentially mean that you're taking care of someone else. Depending on the age of your kids, you're trying not to curse, you're trying to keep things simple, and there's some sort of attempt to lay off the sarcasm.
Kids have no idea about the difference between that and your work persona.
I once worked at a publisher that participated in an annual mock magazine project with a local high school. Each year, for a week, a group of high school kids would shadow us at our jobs and attend many of our meetings. Then they'd go back to school and produce their own magazine. It was like a weeklong Take Somebody Else's Kids to Work Day.
Near the end of the week, the director of the program asked if any of the editors or writers would be willing to meet with the students and answer their questions. I thought it sounded like fun. These kids were not shy. Two questions recurred: Do you guys always fight like this? And why are all these women so mean?
The students were asking about our all-staff news meetings. The meetings lasted an hour, during which everyone pitched their news ideas for the next issue. Competition was intense. When you spoke, you did so with confidence, whether it was genuine or not. If you made a mistake, you would be shot down. You learned pretty quickly not to open your mouth unless you knew what you were talking about.
At the end of the hour, everyone had their marching orders. The whole team ran on very strict deadlines, and if you couldn't convince the editors to take a flyer on your idea within that hour, there was no real appeal.
The students had never seen anything like that. We thought we were hashing out ideas. They thought we were fighting.
And the women. That's what impressed them the most, and not in a good way. "We've never seen women fight like that!" they'd say. They were aghast. Women just don't act like that, right?
When I thought about it, I realized I shouldn't have been surprised. Who are the women they know? Their moms, mostly. And while parenting is a lot of things, it is mostly not about intellectual firepower or about how well-spoken you are during a heated debate.
These kids saw their moms making dinners, bringing them to sports practices, and making sure the homework got done. So these kids didn't think that a woman would respond to a weak idea at work with a dismissive, "That's not a news story." They thought women in the workplace spoke like the other women in their lives, that workplace rejection sounded something like, "Gee, Kimberly, we can tell you put a lot of work into your pitch, and you're definitely improving, but we're not sure it's exactly right for us right now."
Of course, these same kids may also have seen their dads cooking meals and acting as chauffeur. The difference is that they know there's another side to their dads, one that they see reflected in media and the larger culture. But it's still all too easy to stumble upon a Sunday-morning talk show where the host and guests are all white men.
The movies aren't a huge improvement: In family films, two-thirds of male characters are shown working, compared to just 45 percent of women, according to a study from Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. That same study found that women, who make up 25 percent of CEOs in real life, make up only 3.4 percent of C-suite jobs in the movies.
So where are our kids going to get a more accurate view of working women, no matter where they rank within -- or outside of -- the hierarchy? At work. And maybe, on Thursday, at your work.