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Future Working Women : Girls Get Taste of Mom's or Dad's Job on 'Take Our Daughters to Work' Day


CYPRESS — Lauren Gentile is a very practical young lady. When quizzed about why she thinks women should pursue careers, she said, "So that their children can have more toys."

And when asked how she liked accompanying her dad on the long morning commute to his workplace, she responded, "I thought it was good because we got to take the car-pool lane."

The 9-year-old hung out with her father on Wednesday--Take Our Daughters to Work Day--to learn a little about the possibilities that await her when she grows up. But Lauren already has her career picked out: "I want to be a dentist, like my uncle."

A day spent with Dad--Joseph Gentile, manager of the claims and cost-containment department at PacifiCare Health Systems in Cypress--only confirmed Lauren's determination to follow in her uncle's footsteps. The most important thing she learned, she said, was "how my dad feels when he has to sit through long meetings. Dentists don't have meetings, I don't think."

Gentile was amused: "Now she'll appreciate that glazed look in my eyes when I come home at night."

Take Our Daughters to Work Day was initiated by the Ms. Foundation, which raises money for organizations that support women's causes. Hundreds of companies across the nation participated, inviting girls ages 9 to 15 to visit their operations.

"We hope it becomes an annual event," said Miriam Zoll, a spokeswoman for the foundation at its New York headquarters. "Studies show that at about the age of 9, girls begin to feel they cannot accomplish as much as boys can. This may not be a solution, but it is the beginning of a process to interrupt the dissolution of self-esteem by paying more attention to girls."

PacifiCare sponsored a program that began Wednesday morning with speeches by female employees, followed by a tour of the company. After the scheduled events, girls joined their "mentors"--mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, neighbors--on the job.

Among other Orange County businesses that took part were the Brea and Westminster malls, both owned by Corporate Property Investors in New York. The malls matched about 100 girls from local school districts with their own employees as well as police officers and firefighters.

At PacifiCare, "we always look for opportunities to bridge the gap between workplace and home," said Alan Hoops, president and chief executive of the managed health care organization. "It's more than important today for girls to learn that they can have a career--it's critical."

Hoops said the day's emphasis was not so much on specific jobs as "on what our employees had to do to get where they are."

About 150 of the company's 1,500 employees took PacifiCare up on its offer to bring a youngster to work.

"I think it's important to get Lauren thinking about a career and her life as an adult, even this early," Joseph Gentile said.

Lauren, who lives with her family in Thousand Oaks, has a pretty good understanding of what her mother does as a registered nurse at Northridge Hospital. But she's still a tad foggy about her father's role as a cost-containment manager.

"He answers his phone and goes to meetings," Lauren said as she opened a stack of letters for her father, taking the task very seriously.

The morning's seminars and tours were proclaimed boring by an overwhelming majority of those sampled. "They talked about stuff we wouldn't understand unless we were 17 or something," said 10-year-old Debbie Farmer of Riverside. Enthusiasm picked up once the girls were set free to swarm through PacifiCare cubicles.

Diane Bell, a medical adjuster, said she hopes the event will inspire her daughter, Malika, to get a good education. "I had children when I was young," the Diamond Bar resident said. "I hope she gets a master's degree and establishes a career before she has a family. I want her to be Ms. Bell, not Mrs. Whoever."

Twelve-year-old Malika seemed to have grasped what her mother had in mind. "I've learned today that I can do anything I want to," she said, "if I put my head to it."

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