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Moms Show Daughters Working World

April 21, 1999

Diana Montanez, the daughter of a fork-lift operator, had visited an office only once before spending ``Take Our Daughters To Work Day″ last year with executive assistant Sharri Reese. But the day changed her dreams.

``After school, I was planning to just look for a job, do anything,″ the Philadelphia high school junior said between classes Tuesday. ``When I went there, I thought I’d like to work for a company. That sounds more interesting.″

This Thursday, as they have for seven years, millions of parents will bring their daughters to work for on-the-job learning and confidence-boosting.

But side-by-side will come thousands of girls who don’t have a working parent or a parent whose workplace welcomes them _ girls who perhaps need the attention most of all. Along with Ms. Reese’s employer Sunoco, they’ll visit workplaces such as the Anchorage airport, American Express in New York, and the agency that runs Chicago’s public housing.

They’re invited by employers that are learning how crucial mentoring is not only for girls, but for enabling working women to grow and advance. As formal mentoring programs burgeon _ offering for women what old-boy networks do for men _ reaching out to girls becomes all the easier.

``More and more companies are realizing that a way for women to stay involved and continue to be contributors, is by having people pay attention to them,″ said Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation, which created Daughters To Work day.

Ms. Reese and Miss Montanez were brought together by One to One, a 9-year-old nonprofit group that provides mentors for children in Philadelphia, where 40 percent of public school students drop out of high school.

This year, One to One is trying to place 600 girls with employers on Thursday, compared with 400 girls last year. And while more companies take girls each year, ``there are never enough workplaces,″ said Mary Strasser, executive director of One to One.

``They need that vision that the workplace provides,″ said Ms. Strasser. ``They need to know why they’re studying algebra, French ... .″

Making such connections has been crucial for 16-year-old Jacqueline Lovelace, a student who’s been spending two hours weekly with Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce manager Patricia Smith-Green under One to One’s auspices.

``It gives me more initiative to learn,″ said Jacqueline, who will spend her first Daughters to Work day with Ms. Smith-Green. ``It helps me realize the kind of things that are out there.″

On the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, Velda Shelby does whatever she can to get as many local girls as possible _ neighbors, grandaughters, nieces _ into the tribal government, the region’s largest employer, on Daughters to Work day. The local high school drop-out rate is 40 percent, and many parents don’t work, she says.

Then she’s blunt about what they’re up against in future. ``I let `em know, I’m right there,″ says Ms. Shelby, an administrative assistant. ``My whole face and body is slammed up against this glass ceiling.″

But when faced with glass ceilings in a robust job market, many women can go elsewhere. That’s one reason companies such as American Express and accountants Deloitte & Touche are offering mentoring opportunities to talented workers.

``More and more, (mentoring) is becoming more formalized and more and more it’s becoming a priority in terms of recruiting and retaining the best talent,″ said Beth Franzone, a spokeswoman for American Express.

Along with creating a number of mentoring programs in recent years both for women and all employees, the financial services company brings in 40 disadvantaged girls annually to Daughters to Work day at its New York headquarters to allow ``our employees to serve as role models to the next generation of workers,″ said coordinator Michelle Morrow.

Sharri Reese was eager to spend the day with 18-year-old Diana Montanez; she’d visited her Mom’s office when young and knew how important mentors are. Today, she’s proud that they stay in touch, and that Miss Montanez asked her to be a reference for a convenience store job last summer.

``It’s important when somebody is caring enough about you to show what they do, and care about your future,″ said Ms. Reese. ``I didn’t really do much, but just me talking to her I guess was enough.″

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