APRIL 27 is the third annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and as the mother of two little girls, I'm excited. But I'm also concerned that the success of this event, sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women, is spawning a misguided replacement: ''Take a Child to Work Day.''
Some corporations are adopting this as a morale-builder for employees and their families. To do it right, they think they should wrap boys and girls into one day, creating a more efficient and egalitarian event. Already a number of major American firms, such as Ford Motor Company, Apple Computer, and Colgate-Palmolive, are falling into this trap.
I remember when my dad sponsored his own annual Take Your Offspring to Work Day. My brother and I would wear our sharpest outfits and take the train into Boston with dad. I think his motive was not to inspire career goals but to help us understand where dad disappeared to each morning, to give us a midsummer adventure, and to show us off. He would introduce us to everyone from his secretary to his bosses. At lunch, we walked to the Boston Common and fed the ducks and rode the famous swan boats. I felt loved and that my dad was proud of me. Every child should bask in that kind of attention.
But I also noticed a few things -- at my dad's office and at home -- that make me think taking a daughter to work deserves to be celebrated separately.
I met the ''big enchiladas'' in my dad's office. None wore nylons and heels. I saw no female superiors or peers, no one like me or my mother.
My mom had her own successful real estate office when I was growing up. But she also was responsible for all meal preparations (except for Saturday night supper, when dad would heat up some hot dogs and a can of beans), laundry, housework, discipline, caring for sick children, and getting us to and from our activities. Many of today's moms will find that a familiar scenario.
I remember that mom had to get dad's signature for a business loan. Although he signed it gladly, that bank requirement (now illegal) was humiliating for my mom.
And it didn't escape me that my older brother was always given the last extra pork chop ''because he runs so hard,'' although we were both on the track team.
I don't begrudge my brother a single pork chop. And I don't expect that one day at work will radically change my daughters' view of the world. But studies show that sometime between ages 9 and 15, girls begin to feel less confident about themselves. They tend to speak out less in school and perceive themselves as less capable than boys in the fields of math and science.
I can't help but wonder how many more female astronauts, lawyers, and CEOs there would be today if the girls of previous generations had participated in Take Our Daughters to Work days.
My nine-year-old is about to participate in her first Take Our Daughters to Work Day. She's already watched and helped me in my own home-based business, and, since she has a talent for art, I've asked a friend who's a successful graphic-design artist to adopt her for the day. This friend is self-employed, happily married, and widely traveled. She lives in a beautiful funky home and works in a studio there, so she can wear whatever casual clothes she wants to. This is what I want my daughter to see as possible.
Take Our Daughters to Work Day is a modest step to support our daughters' development. We water down its benefits if we make it genderless.
Of course we should take our sons to work -- on any day but April 27.