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April 24, 2014What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an astronaut. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that my grandfather built lunar modules. As I grew older, I was told by a boy in my class, “You can’t be an astronaut! Women have problems that make it difficult for them to go to space.” I decided I wanted to be a poet instead. When I told my high school guidance counselor this, she wrote “Poetess” on my form.

“No, I want to be a poet. Not a ‘poetess.’”

“Yes, poetess. You’re female, so you’re a poetess.”

“Isn’t poet gender-neutral?”

One thing I didn’t know then but do now is that no occupation is ever gender-neutral.

Many of my friends also had dreams as children that changed as they grew. My writer/editor friend Raina wanted to be an FBI agent; so did Mecca, who’s now a social worker. Teresa wanted to be a pediatrician; she’s now an administrative assistant. Adam wanted to be a garbage man and ended up becoming a mechanical engineer. Another engineer friend, Paul, had fantasies of being a lumberjack. Emily wanted to be a shark scientist; now she’s a librarian.  Paige dreamt of being a rocket scientist, which is a bit different from her current career of physical therapist. Bill wanted to be a lawyer; today, he’s a web designer, a job that didn’t even exist when he was little. Denise wanted to be a flight attendant. Today, she’s an athlete.

Ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get a variety of answers. Most of them will end up doing something very different with their lives. Why?

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day gives our children a chance to get a close-up look at real-world occupations. The day was started to show daughters different career options, but today, sons are also included, so that all children can see possibilities for their futures and what it might take to achieve their dreams.

But even today, dreams don’t always come true. There are still many jobs that are difficult for women to break into. Only about 7% of mechanical engineers and 23% of computer programmers are women. Remember my old astronaut dream? Just 12% of aerospace engineers are women—had I made it that far, I would have been one of very few. About a third of physicians, surgeons, dentists, musicians, and athletes are women.

Even worse, women are paid less than men in most occupations. Female physicians and surgeons make less than 80% of what their male counterparts make; female lawyers make 87% of what male lawyers make. Women in computer and mathematical occupations make approximately 82% of their male cohorts’ salaries, and women in sales earn about 68% of what their male coworkers earn.

Even the top salaries in Hollywood are all earned by men; women did not receive any of the 16 biggest paychecks earned by actors in a film. Of top 10 highest paid actors, men accounted for nine; Angelia Jolie filled the 10th slot (tied with Denzel Washington). Top female athletes face similar pay inequity: prize money for the PGA tour is more than 5 times that of the LPGA tour; the highest-paid female athlete (Maria Sharapova) makes $29 million, a great amount until you compare it with the  $78 million made by the world’s highest paid male athlete (Tiger Woods).  The gender pay gap is very obvious on the basketball court, where NBA players, on average, earn $2.5 million. The salary cap for an entire WNBA Team of 11 players is $878,000. Head coaches at women’s teams from NCAA Division I-A schools make an average salary of $850,400, compared to an average salary of $1,783,100 for men’s teams—a difference of $932,700. Over the course of a woman’s career, she will have lost $431,000 on average due to the earnings gap. Even the best-paid executives at S&P 500 companies still earn 18% less than men.

The whole point of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is to give kids a taste of adult power—and responsibility. Let’s show boys and girls alike all of the possibilities and encourage them to aspire to any job. But let’s also make sure that our daughters truly have the same opportunities as our sons, including the same capacity to dream big, achieve those dreams—and be paid accordingly.

Just think: perhaps if I hadn’t heard so many “Nos” as a child, I’d be exploring outer space today.