The twenty-something set mistakenly believes that men and women are equals at work; meanwhile, the wage gap between men and women continues to increase. The wage gap doesn't affect women until they have a kid — when they are way too busy juggling work and family to shout out to the world about the wage gap. But there is hope: April 24 is Take Our Children to Work Day, an event that aims to draw attention to the fact that the corporate world stifles the careers of people who take care of kids — mostly women.

The event used to be Take our Daughters to Work, but at this point, the problem is not getting women into the management track, it is getting them to stay there.

Last year the United States General Accounting Office released the Women in Management Study which found that women and men have roughly equal levels of education and equal numbers in the work force. But industry by industry, evidence of the wage gap persists. For example, a full-time female communications manager earned 86 cents for every dollar a male made in her industry in 1995. In 2000, she made only 73 cents on the man’s dollar.

A little digging into the study shows that the pay gap was widest among parents, and that in management positions women have a harder time than men doing the career-family balancing act. Across all industries, 60 percent of male managers have children in the home compared to only 40 percent of women managers.

So what's the best way to reach the ranks of senior management? Don't have kids. Women in management make less than men because women find it much harder than men to continue the long, hard hours that management demands once they have kids at home.

Are you one of the women who think this problem will not affect you? Are you thinking you will be able to balance kids and climb the ladder? Then you'll need a stay-at-home-dad to raise your kids. A recent issue of Fortune magazine ran a cover article about how most moms who are high in the ranks of corporate America have a husband at home taking care of the kids. Good luck finding a guy to do that. The men featured in the article were so humiliated at their position that most refused to be interviewed.

One of the biggest barriers to change is that women don't perceive that there's a problem until they have a high-powered job, two screaming kids, and a husband who says, “I support equality; Let's hire a nanny so we can both work.” At this point, the woman is overwhelmed by the demands on her life, and less likely than the man to be satisfied with the nanny solution. These women have little energy to advocate for change in the workplace — in fact, they usually cut back or drop out (hence the wage gap).

So take a kid to work on April 24. Even if you don't have a kid, borrow a kid. These kids will run in and out of cubicles, scribble on white boards, raid the office fridge, and generally have a great time. Hopefully, they will also disrupt everyone's day, annoy the workaholics, and remind people that the corporate ladder does not accommodate people who take care of children.

The first step toward change is to engage in serious discussion. This is not happening now, but it might start happening if change leaders identify themselves on April 24 by bringing a kid to work. These are the people who will help the next generation of parents close the wage gap; these are the people who will scheme with you to reform the workplace. Take notice of the other people who show up with kids. Band together and start your own workplace revolution.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but the people who are incredibly good at what they do are not unemployed. So if you are unemployed, you probably are not outstanding in your chosen profession. Sorry. But don't feel too bad, because everyone is great at something — you just need to find that thing. And there's no better time to soul-search than when you aren't making money anyway: No lost opportunity cost.

People who have incredible achievements in their career or show amazing promise have resumes that get snapped up quickly. Hiring managers receive hundreds of resumes for each job opening, and invariably, three or four of these resumes are outstanding. If your resume is not outstanding, you will not rise to the top of one of these piles.

Sure, there are exceptions: your idiot college roommate who is making six figures or the incompetent co-worker who survived the layoff that you did not. But I bet you cannot think of someone who has rocked the world of every boss she's had yet hunts hopelessly for a job.

Still wondering if you're one of the best? Well, if you haven't received some sort of offer in five or six months, that is not a good sign. Doors open when someone incredible knocks — even companies with hiring freezes make exceptions for outstanding candidates. Mike Russiello, CEO of Brainbench, says, “Companies are getting very good at identifying top performers — looking at things like, past roles in projects, certifications, and how someone interviews.” You are not going to fake anyone out with inflated Internet titles or achievements you cannot quantify. If you're not top you're not top.

And do not try to console yourself by saying that you are a rare find who suffers from bad networking. Sure, good networking helps. But the truth is that if you really are a rare find, the network comes to you. If you are amazing at your chosen profession, people call you, people check in with you, people want to be near you. You don't need good networking skills to answer your phone when it rings. You only need good networking skills to compensate for the fact that no one calls.

But instead of banking on good networking skills, how about changing careers to do something at which you are, indeed, outstanding? Unemployment is a great point in life to make use of excess time to figure out where your gifts really lie and what you really love to do.

Most people who are not outstanding in their job are not doing what they really love. The good news is that if you do what you love, you're more likely to end up rich. One survey of 1500 undergraduate business students found that 87% of the students said they wanted to make money quickly and figure out self-fulfillment later. The remaining 13% of the students said gratification was more important than money. Twenty years later 101 of those students were millionaires and all but one of those students were from the group who said gratification was more important than money.

There's nothing like a bad economy to make you more honest with yourself. Less money to go out to dinner, less money to go shopping: Try sitting at home and doing some soul-searching. At least entertain the possibility that you are not that great at your work and your talents lie somewhere else. You can spend another six months sending out mediocre resumes to scarce job leads, or you can recreate yourself as a person who is in love with your career choice and more passionate and competent than any of your competitors.

Change is difficult. And career change is especially scary. But in this economy, some people will find that not changing is more risky than changing.

For too many people, staying in the family business is the easy way to worm out of difficulties of adult life: finding a place where you fit in, discovering what you love to do, and living with the fear of rejection. Especially today, with a dried-up job market, the family business is a way of avoiding a difficult job hunt.

I worked in a family business — a bookstore. I started when I was eight, selecting titles for the early reader section, and by the end of college I was a walking card catalogue. After so many years, I was the heir apparent to the store. But I wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t sure what.

Fifteen years and three careers later, I am certain that there are three things you should do before you decide to settle down with your family business for the long haul:

1. Figure out your dream job. Don’t worry about being realistic. Rock star, movie producer, politician: everything is fair game. Then decide if you want to go down the path to fulfill that dream. Don’t feel bad if the dream is impossible – many dreams are not realistic, but they contain gems of truth. For example, someone who dreams of being a rock star probably wants to be creative at work. The exercise of dreaming helps you to figure out your core needs. Once you know these needs, take an honest look at the family business. If you cannot fulfill your core needs in the family business, you should leave.

2. Get a job. Even if you are sure you’ll stay in the family business, get a job outside of the business. Job hunting sucks, which is why you should do it. The process is humbling and scary because on one level, you are asking someone to pay you to work so you can eat; at another level, job hunting requires understanding yourself well enough to talk about your dreams, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You need to experience what it is like to ask for a day off from someone who doesn’t love you. Working for someone outside your family helps you to interact effectively with all people outside your family. This process is a rite of passage, and if you don’t go through it, you risk stunted growth.

3. Take a large risk. If the entrepreneur is on the high end of the risk-taking scale, the kid who stays in the family business is on the low end. At the end of life, the thing people most often say they regret is not taking enough risks. Make sure that staying in the family business will not make you wish later that you were a risk taker. If you take a large risk early on, then you can be more certain that you are not staying in the family business because you are scared of taking risks. Risks are different for everyone — a mountain for one person is a molehill for another. Find something that scares you and do it.

Adult life is about learning what matters to you and creating a life that reflects your values. In order to know what’s important, though, you need to see the world. Take time to establish yourself independently from your family — at least for a while — so you can see yourself more clearly. Whether you stay in the family business or go somewhere else, you’ll be a happier person for making the decision honestly.

My husband and I always thought he'd be the stay-at-home parent, so I am shocked that I am the one changing diapers all day.

When we were dating, I was making a solid, six-figure salary in the software industry. I had already founded two companies and cashed out of one. He was a video artist and traveled to festivals all over the world showing arcane art on activist topics. He planned off-beat things to do on our dates; I would pay for them.

I was rising so fast in my corporate career that a business magazine paid me to write about my ascent. I ended up making as much money writing as my husband made at his day job. People asked me if I resented having two jobs and subsidizing my husband's career as an artist. Actually, I didn't mind at all; I loved to work, and he agreed to stay home when we had kids. I thought I was one of the lucky women who could blast through the glass ceiling and have kids because I had a husband who would take care of our home life.

We planned to get pregnant at a time when I would not disrupt my career, but in September 2001, our designated family start-date, both my husband and I got laid off. I got pregnant anyway. As my belly grew, I continued my freelance writing career while he volunteered in non-profits, and we lead a bohemian life with corporate savings. But by the seventh month, I missed the structured, team-oriented atmosphere of work. I was editing my resume the morning I went into labor.

When the baby arrived, I planned to get a full-time, office job right away, but after only a few weeks of sleepless nights, my husband got a job offer. He wasn't even looking, really,— he was doing things like soothing diaper rash and assembling the breast pump. But one of the people he met through volunteering got him an interview at a top-notch human rights organization. The job offer was for his dream job, so we decided he should try it.

Now I would be home with the baby, alone. For those of you who haven't had a baby, let's just say that going to an office is about a thousand times easier than dealing with a newborn. With a newborn there is no schedule, no break, and no performance review to let you know if you're screwing up. So naturally, I wanted to be the one with the job. I tried to be happy for my husband. I tried not to hope that he would hate his job and quit.

During my first week as a stay-at-home mom, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't write and I couldn't figure out how any adult can stay home all day with a baby who can't talk. So I hired a babysitter for a few days a week and I went to an office to write and look for a full-time job. But I never got around to the job hunt because I missed the baby while I was away — I missed his smile and the way he stares at his hands like he's not sure if they're his.

People often describe their family life in terms of earning power: The spouse who has the higher earning power is the one who works. This is logical, but it doesn't always work out that way.

My dad just called. He said one of his fifteen-year-old students asked, “Why do we need to know this? How will To Kill a Mockingbird help me in life?” My dad loves questions like that because he has asked them himself.

My dad has always loved school. He was the kid who did the extra credit even though he already had an A. So he had a lot of options at the end of college. He applied to two graduate schools: Yale for history and Harvard for law. He got into them both.

Before I tell you what he chose, I have to tell you about my family. Rich. Mob money. My great-grandfather, my dad’s grandpa, was the lawyer for the Chicago mob: solid work during prohibition and a reliable profession during the depression. Money flowed freely during my dad’s college days, but his grandfather threatened the inheritance if my dad chose history over law. The way my dad tells the story, he always knew he wanted to teach, but he was scared to risk his family “?s wrath, to say nothing of their wealth.

So, after Harvard, my dad went to the top law firm in Chicago (without even having to interview.) My dad hated it, but he wasn’t a risk taker, so he hated it for a long time, thinking the money was worth it. Like the BMW: he drove one of the first cars (when the motorcycle company diversified in desperation) and the cars were so rare that the BMWs would flash each other when they passed. (I’d yell from the back seat, “Hey, there’s one! Flash, Dad, flash!)

There came a point, though when my dad asked himself, “Why do I need to know about all these cases? How is this helping me in life?” His grandpa died, his law firm merged, and the bottom of the BMW fell out.

Finally, after years of thinking his career would get better, it didn’t, and he quit. He went to graduate school to teach high school history. He was older than all the professors. His kids were older than all the students. After thirty years of practicing law, he started over.

I asked him about classes and he’s say, “It’s hard to go back to school. It’s hard to no know what I’m dong after so many years of doing the same thing.” He said his favorite class was the history of civil rights, because when they got to the ’60s he could write papers about his college days.

Upon graduation, everyone in his class got interviews and he didn’t. No one even talked about age discrimination because it was so obviously there and so obviously unavoidable. Finally, though, he got a job. Teaching English. He wanted to teach history, but he’s entry level now. It’s like doing HTML when you’ve got a degree in computer science.

But my dad is thrilled. He took a big career risk and he’s happy. He’s happy to be interacting with the students, but also, I have a feeling that he’s happy he took a risk. Changing careers is so scary, but it’s so empowering-it gives you assurance that you can al ways choose to do what you want most — the hard part is to know yourself well enough to know what that is. So think like a fifteen-year-old and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” And then think like a risk taker and jump like my dad when you know your time is right.

Whenever I have found myself in financial trouble, the first thing I thought was “Can I solve this problem with school?” I learned this behavior early, when boys were stealing my lunch money on the way to school; I started going to school extra early to do times tables with the teacher until the boys stopped looking for me. I continued this behavior into adulthood, and used grad school as a way to occupy myself during bad economic times.

I am not alone in this technique. But grad school is pricey. Most programs cost more than $8,000 a year, and MBA programs can run $100,000 a year. Unless you can get your parents to pay for school, you risk being stuck with loans that you can't pay. So you should check out predictions for the jobs markets of the future, and get credentials that will prepare you to pay back loans without totally limiting your work options. (Here's a start: Healthcare worker, good. Violinist, bad.)

You should also be honest with yourself about whether or not you can stomach school. A friend of mine wanted to change careers, so he considered getting a degree in the new field. He took one class to test the waters, and the first day, the professor asked students about their political views. Each student defined her views in relation to those of her parents. Not surprising for a bunch of 20 year olds, but untenable for a seminar if you're 35, like my friend. No degree program for him, but here's the good news — he got a job anyway. And you might be able to do that, too. So don't be so quick to sign up for four more years of schooling.

If you are still gung-ho on more schooling, make a plan for what that degree will get you after school, in terms of lifestyle and job satisfaction. For example, polls show that lawyers are typically not happy in their profession and biochemists are very happy. Don't neglect the dreaded grad school essay. If you are having trouble writing about why you want to go to a particular program, you probably trying to solve a problem that school can't solve. My third grade teacher put it to me this way: It doesn't help to come back to school when your brother ate your after-school snack.

A lot of the going-back-to-school game is luck. During the last recession, I went back to school for English. I thought I would be an English professor, but I got sidetracked by the computer science department and wrote my thesis in HTML. I was lucky that while the idea of teaching English was delusional (jobs are scarce), the Web was the new big thing, and no one knew HTML. I turned my generally useless grad school program into a lucrative job in the high-tech industry.

So think carefully before you go back to school, but realize that all the planning in the world does not make you a predictor of the future. Grad school is not a way to play it safe, but it's a way to play the odds by opening new doors for yourself.