By Michelle Heller

It started in one small office in New York, grew to 3.5 million offices around the world, and even reached one little office called the White House. It’s “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” Day, and it’s today.

The international career day for kids began as simply Take Our Daughters to Work Day, under the auspices of none other than Gloria Steinem. The founder of Ms Foundation had invited her employees to bring their daughters into the office to see what their mothers did at work. The next year, after some journalists heard about the initiative, it went nationwide. That was all the way back in 1993.

Ms Foundation leaders envisioned the day as a way to boost girls’ self-esteem and inspire them by showcasing different career options. In its early years it was conceived with a partner event for sons, called Take Our Sons Home Day, to show boys how much work it takes to run a household. That second part never got off the ground, but the first part was hugely successful from the start, going global in just 5 years.

But despite its popularity, the event also met with controversy.

Many found it disruptive to workplace productivity — according to one story, female students visiting one Wall Street office were taunted by male employees when they arrived for their career day.

Others criticized the day as a luxury that only white-collar parents could accommodate for, leading to unfairness for girls who came from lower economic brackets. Still others claimed that the event backfired — rather than highlight what women did in the workplace, it highlighted what they didn’t do: occupy leadership roles.

But the biggest uproar came from men’s-rights activists who felt that the day treated boys unequally. The “Bring Our Sons Too” movement resulted in several lawsuits and led to, in 2002, boys being invited to participate as well.

Today the day includes both sons and daughters, involves more than 39 million people, and is a nonprofit organization supported by sponsors like HP and Goldman Sachs.

The Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation provides detailed guides to planning a TODASTW day in your workplace. For students they also offer a terrific selection of videos detailing various career options, from science to the importance of math to even, you guessed it, how to be a leader. At WGLI, we certainly agree.