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How To Build Self Esteem In Girls Through Work

Millions of young women ages 9 to 15 across the United States are learning to argue legal cases, design office towers, edit magazines and travel into space during the annual Take Our Daughters To Work Day. The program, created by the Ms. Foundation for Women, seeks to increase girls' self-esteem during their adolescent years, and expand their ideas of what is possible by encouraging parents to bring their daughters into the workplace.

The History

The Ms. Foundation has been working to improve women's opportunities for 25 years. In addition to the Take Our Daughters To Work program, they have developed numerous public education campaigns on women's economic security, health and safety for girls and leadership training for young women.

"The program began when an influx of research indicated that adolescent and preadolescent girls were having a progressively difficult time establishing their identities and developing self-esteem," says Ms. Foundation Spokesperson Kelly Parisi. "Members of the Ms. Foundation and the Harvard Project traveled the country talking to women about girls' development. They found that public consensus was overwhelming: today's grown women want to improve the adolescent experience for their daughters."

After two years of experimenting and developing ideas, the Ms. Foundation hired a communications consultant to help them create the Take Our Daughters To Work program. The goal was to give young women a positive idea of their role in the workplace, and to raise adult awareness of the issues girls face in the pre- and mid-adolescent stages of their lives.

"We decided to focus on work in order to emphasize the importance of girls' abilities rather than their appearance," Parisi says. "We thought a day at work would heighten girls' aspirations and help them make the connection between academic success and success in the real world."

Shortly after the first event in April 1993, the Ms. Foundation was flooded with thousands of phone calls from interested parents, and its popularity has sky-rocketed ever since. "In the past, programs for girls have not been effective when they were originally designed for boys," Parisi says. "But the issues facing adolescent girls are particular to them. They need a distinctive approach."

The Reality

The reality of gender equality in the 21st century is a sobering issue. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, the number of working women in America has expanded from 18.4 million in 1950 to 63 million as of 1997; and 56 percent of new workforce entrants are female.

Women have made incredible advances in nearly every occupation since the beginning of the civil rights movement, but they still earn only 76-cents to every dollar earned by men and they are significantly absent from America's top boardrooms, executive positions and high-tech jobs. The 1999 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners Report revealed that less than 15 percent of American companies count a woman among their top five earners, and women hold only 77 of the 2,353 top-paying spots.

According to the Bureau of Labor, the five fastest-growing occupations in the United States are information technology positions that require advanced computer skills. However, the New York Times reported that girls made up only 17 percent of high school students who took the advanced placement exam in computer science in 1998.

The Big Picture

Of course, the program has been a big hit with young girls. "It's one of my favorite days of the year," says 13-year-old Erin, whose mother is a pediatrician in Portland, Ore. " This will be my third year in a row. I just love to see what my mom does and watch all the action. It makes me realize that work doesn't have to be a drag, and that I can do whatever I really want."

Parents or business owners who would like to contact the organization for more details can call the Ms. Foundation's toll-free number: (800) 676-7780.

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