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Daughters Were at Work Today

April 23, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ernst & Young has canned the tours and speeches. At this year’s Take Our Daughters to Work Day on Thursday, girls filled out loan applications, created ads and ran their own small businesses.

``We’re keeping it fresh for our daughters,″ said Tom Hough, the accounting firm’s vice chairman of human resources. ``In the past, we’ve had presentations, we’ve had our daughters into our offices. This is the first truly interactive day.″

Now in its sixth year, Daughters to Work Day is a rite of spring at many workplaces, with millions of girls attending. But employers have discovered that the day can grow stale when young visitors get only talks and tours.

To rekindle the event, employers are turning to hands-on activities to keep their visitors happy _ and coming back each year.

Munching on Life Savers and ice cube-shaped candy, girls at the New York law firm Anderson Kill & Olick helped stage a mock trial to assess liability for the 1912 sinking of the Titanic.

The firm, which begins planning for the annual day in January, seized on the publicity surrounding the movie ``Titanic″ to help give this year’s event a new twist, firm partner Linda Gerstel said.

``Each year, the next year becomes even more difficult because we go through every effort imaginable to come up with something exciting,″ said Ms. Gerstel, speaking as children roamed the firm collecting evidence ranging from drawings of the ship to certificates on its lifeboat count. ``It’s a challenge to keep the interest there,″ she said.

Many companies first marked the day by giving tours, but found that their allure quickly faded.

Francie Sloan, the day’s lead organizer at Kaiser Permanente health care, said she and other organizers at the Oakland, Calif.-based company at first tried to interest their visitors in the largely administrative and financial jobs at the company’s headquarters. It was a mistake.

``We came to the conclusion that these are boring jobs,″ she said. ``There’s merit in them, but they’re really not that interesting. We’ve gone back to the drawing board.″

This year, doctors and nurses from the company’s hospitals visited to help the girls play games about nutrition, learn about resume writing and discuss ``how the media shapes our body image″ _ activities that are related to health and careers but are more snazzy for girls.

At the World Bank in Washington, D.C., interest in the annual round of tours and lectures waned so much that the event was skipped one year.

After organizers regrouped and created a mock university and other new events, attendance leaped from 600 girls to 1,100 last year. This year, about 1,800 girls showed up to teleconference with girls worldwide, create their own Web sites and take classes from journal-writing to the development work of the bank.

``They may still take tours, but we discourage it,″ said coordinator Kathryn Tama. ``Now it’s more hands-on.″

The Ms. Foundation, creators of the day, approves. ``That’s the stuff that keeps it fresh, keeps it current,″ president Marie Wilson said. ``Companies have gotten smarter.″

Certainly, the changes seem to be paying off.

Twelve-year-old Cheyenne Vieira, a third-year veteran of the day, said she liked this year’s hands-on activities at Salomon Smith Barney even better than the magic show the New York investment bank threw in 1996.

``I really learned stuff,″ she said during a pause in the day’s activities. ``The second time, they just talked to us, showed us what they do.″

On Thursday, Vieira and other girls helped punch the time and date on stock trades, while others announced pretend municipal bonds to traders on a company intercom system.

``If you have the same group of kids coming back year after year, you don’t want to be doing the same exact thing,″ said organizer Debbie Santalesa. Salomon estimated that 70 percent of the day’s 500 visitors also came last year.

Still, not all workplaces have to scratch heads to spice up the day. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. government research organization in Berkeley, Calif., gives nearly the same program each year _ including tours of its firehouse, scientific equipment shop, and a workshop in DNA research in mice _ and has seen attendance grow annually.

``There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel,″ organizer Marva Wilkins said.

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