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World of careers opened up to girls

A girl accompanies her father to work on the railways in 2004

(Keystone)

On Thursday at least 20,000 Swiss schoolgirls will accompany their father or mother to work for the day.

The fifth national Take Your Daughter to Work Day is aimed at removing prejudices and broadening the range of professions and careers considered by girls.

"The job market is still not mixed, and three out of four girls continue to choose careers in education, the healthcare sector or sales, which allow them to combine family life with a job," confirmed Anita Balz, who coordinates the annual event in French-speaking Switzerland.

In Switzerland 75 per cent of mothers work, yet the prejudice against working mothers remains. Balz told swissinfo there was a need to develop new strategies to encourage economic and professional equality.

Take Your Daughter to Work Day was created in 2001 by the Swiss Conference of Gender Equality Delegates. Cantons can choose whether they want to take part in the initiative.

From 12,000 in 2002 the number of girls participating had risen to 20,000 by 2004, and Balz said she expects a further increase this year. To ensure those pupils not taking part in the careers day do not miss out completely, schools will on Thursday be passing on information about equality and the possibilities of combining home life with a career.

The support of the schools is essential. This year, 1,400 classes have requested information packs from cantonal equality offices.

Where there's a will...

Switzerland's federalist structure means that the annual event takes various forms in the different language regions. In some cantons the Take Your Daughter to Work Day is already in its fifth, seventh or even eighth year.

Other cantons, such as Vaud, include boys too. There the emphasis is on the importance of career choice in general.

Only one canton – Basel City – has decided not to take part, according to Balz.

Business has also joined in enthusiastically. This year, 7,500 firms are taking part, including household names Swiss Federal Railways, Migros and Swisscom.

"It is natural for a firm to take part if it has an equality officer and so is already giving thought to gender questions," said Nadia Lamamra of the Swiss teaching institute for professional training.

Some companies, including swissinfo, even organise days like this themselves. "We invite boys too, but this year it's just girls," said Thérèse Roth of the personnel department.

The programme includes a tour of the building, distribution of information sheets and small gifts bearing the swissinfo logo, and a free lunch with Mum or Dad in the staff canteen.

But it's not just a question of companies' willingness to cooperate. Lamamra points out that social background has a lot to do with the choice of career. It is easier to persuade your daughter you have the ideal job if you are a top manager than if you are a washer-up in a restaurant.

Role models

Despite these efforts, old prejudices die hard. But positive role models can be helpful when it comes to the choice of career a girl makes, says Anne Dafflon Novelle of Geneva University psychology faculty.

"A young person can be turned off a career if they see that their sex is not represented in it, and that applies particularly when the young person is finding his or her sexual identity.

"Girls lack female role models in a broad range of professions, especially technical ones," she told swissinfo.

The answer appears to be that we start addressing the issue of sexual equality from early childhood. At the moment that's not a subject that forms part of the pre-school curriculum.

swissinfo, Isabelle Eichenberger

Key facts

The Swiss Conference of Gender Equality Delegates created national Take Your Daughter to Work Day in 2001.
Held on November 10, the event gives ten- to 15-year-olds a taste of working life.
From 12,000 in 2002, participation jumped to over 20,000 in 2004.
7,500 firms are taking part.
1,400 schools have ordered information packs to show pupils how home and work life can be combined.

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