Leading Article: So this is what you do, daddy . . . so could I

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As so often with modern gesture politics, yesterday's Take Our Daughters To Work Day came from the United States. But exposing 50,000 girls between 11 and 15 to a day in their fathers' workplaces was more than a mere gesture. It helped to stop the participants assuming that their fathers' jobs are unsuitable for women. The sight of dozens of girls (or, in the case of the BBC, 800) showing interest and asking enthusiastic questions must also have prompted many male managers to ask themselves a question: if women are as bright as this, why do we have so few of them at the top of our organisation?

Yet the scheme's very success highlights its inadequacies. Even taking population differences into account, only one-eighth the number of girls participated in Britain as in the US. This gap reflects the fact that there are more women in the upper echelons of American business than in Britain and the greater tolerance given across the Atlantic to the problems of raising children while holding down a job.

Arguably, the daughters of professional and other middle-class families are also the wrong target. Whatever the discrimination that exists in professional jobs - and there is no doubt that what Americans call the 'mommy track' is slower than the career path of childless women - it is girls from less privileged backgrounds who most need the stimulation of a day in what they previously believed to be a male-only environment.

Rather than taking their daughters, therefore, the top executives of British businesses would do better to take girls from the local housing estate with them to work. The effect of a day in a stimulating professional environment on those girls would be far more profound; so, too, would be the effect on the organisation. The presence of girls from less privileged backgrounds would also help managers to realise just how narrow is the social and racial pool from which future managers are traditionally recruited.

Cynics will be tempted to retort that boys as well as girls should take part in such an exercise, for there is still a daunting job to be done in helping children from poorer backgrounds to draw a link between the adult lives they dream of and the educational qualifications they will need to attain them. Sadly, they are right. But that is another story.