The woman behind Take Your Child to Work Day shares what she learned from watching her parents work

Nell MerlinoNell MerlinoFind people who love what they do, says Nell Merlino.

Today is the 14th iteration of “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”

Before the day was expanded to include boys in 2003, the annual event was founded in 1993 and known officially as “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.”

First organised by the Ms. Foundation for Women, the day was meant as an opportunity to introduce young girls to a variety of occupations and allow them to expand their career horizons.

Business Insider recently spoke with the architect behind the day, Nell Merlino, an activist, speaker, and author of “Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want it Their Way in Life, in Love, and at Work.”

She says that she first got the idea for the campaign at her father’s retirement party.

“I came up with it after a real sort of epiphany that I had about what I learned going to work with my own father,” Merlino says.

She says she grew up watching both of her parents pursue their respective careers with gusto. Joseph Merlino was a New Jersey politician who served as the president of the state’s Senate from 1978 to 1981, while Molly Merlino was a painter and advocate for the arts.

Merlino says that observing her parents work at what they loved eventually helped her to discover her own passion: advocating for women and girls.

“I remember watching my mother paint,” she says. “There was a different look in her eye when she was doing that than when she was doing anything else. She loved us dearly, no question in my mind, but she was driven to paint. She was so focused. She had her easel set up in the kitchen and she would boil the dinner over on many nights because she would be so focused on getting something right in a picture.”

Merlino’s father would also often take her to work with him.

“Going to work with my father, I just learned so much about him and about who he worked with,” she says. “I learned about was what it meant — and what it didn’t mean — to wield power. In the abstract, you think if you have this important job, you can do anything. What was pretty obvious to me was that sometimes he got his way and sometimes he didn’t. It wasn’t simply the case that because you’re president of the Senate means that everybody does what you say. Even if you hold power, you still have to persuade people and convince people and compromise. I saw all of that.”

After her father’s retirement party, Merlino wrote up several pages outlining her idea for a day that encouraged employees to bring their daughters to work.

In addition to her own experience, she says she was also fuelled by Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress during Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which Merlino says increased awareness that “some of the things we thought had been solved had not been solved” when it came to sexism in the workplace.

She took her pitch to Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation, which she worked with at the time, and they ended up organising the campaign.

Today, Merlino says that the best advice she can give young people is the same lesson which she learned from her parents: find your passion.

“I think you have to find people who have that,” Merlino says. “Once you see what it looks like, you’ll know how to find it yourself. Sometimes you have a teacher who loves teaching, and it doesn’t mean you have to become a teacher, too, but you have to find that thing that turns the light on in your own eyes. What really gets you?”

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