GrantWatch and MWBEzone were specifically looking for an organization to crush on for Woman Crush Wednesday that has a strong history of empowering women in the workforce. What better nonprofit to choose than Dress for Success, currently led by Joi Gordon.
Joi left her legal career to take over for founder Nancy Lublin, who started Dress for Success in 1996 with a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather Max. Nancy turned his gift into one that is still giving and empowering women today.
How is Dress for Success still carrying on its original vision/mission and how has it diverged with the times?
This year, Dress for Success celebrates 20 years. We have grown from a tiny operation in a basement of a church in Manhattan to an international organization that has served over one million women, with affiliates in 150 cities across 26 countries. As an organization, we have grown and transformed along with our women to offer a full continuum of services that goes far beyond the suit. Our programs offer women the tools they need to achieve our original mission for all women to become economically independent and to thrive in their lives and communities.
Most recently in collaboration with FedEx, we launched The Career Hub, an innovative digital platform, which will provide access to online learning and workforce development resources for women through their computers or smart phones. This program evolution will enable clients and affiliates of Dress for Success to interface with a high-quality educational resource coupled with shared access to opportunities. Now more women will have the option to access our courses remotely and from the comfort of their own homes. The Career Hub will continue to evolve with Dress for Success as it provides a pathway to bolster affiliate programmatic implementation and execution, enrich the professional development of all of its members, include industry-specific career mapping, descriptions of career opportunities on a job board, postings of up-and-coming webinars, employment vacancies and skill-based training classes.
When we look to the next 20 years, we see that journey continue to evolve so that each and every woman can achieve her fullest potential. We are about opening doors and creating opportunities. We still have more work to do, and it will take all of us working together to realize our vision and achieve our mission.
What 1, 2 or 3 accomplishments of your time at Dress for Success are you most proud?
I am most proud of the 1,000,000 women that have come through our doors and have found their own paths to success. The majority of the women we serve are single moms, so in reality I’d say 3,000,000 children’s lives are now directly impacted by their mother’s ability to remain self-sufficient and employed. Watching these strong, courageous and brave women has given me strength over the past 20 years and I am so proud of them.
I am also most proud of the global impact Dress for Success has had on women all over the world. To think, we started with just one location 20 years ago and now we are striving for the same vision and mission in over 26 countries. It is truly amazing. Our vision is a world where women do not live in poverty; are treated with dignity and respect; and are strengthening their families and shaping their communities.
And last but not least, I am proud of the hundreds of young women who have worked with and for me over the years. For many, this was their first job out of school and it has been wonderful to track their success and see their accomplishments as they shape their careers.
How did Nancy Lublin pass the baton to you? Any small anecdote about that meeting or about yourself starting the work that you do so well?
Almost since the beginning of Dress for Success, Nancy and I were side by side. I served on her Board of Directors and saw the life-changing work she was doing first-hand. When she was ready to move on, I was ready to move in. This year, we honored Nancy Lublin for her remarkable work at our 20th Anniversary Gala. In her acceptance speech, she said, “My one operating principal for everything I have ever done is kindness.” That is where I felt I aligned so closely with Nancy and that is one of the core principles that I have led this organization with for the past 18 years.
Has Dress for Success received any grants or funding from sources other than individual philanthropists? From which funding sources and for what types of programs?
Dress for Success Worldwide receives grants and funding from diverse sources, including corporate social responsibility programs, workforce giving, foundation grants and in-kind products and services. Significant supporters include Talbots, Pandora, and Walmart. Walmart was a signature partner in establishing our workforce development program called Going Places Network. This is a national safety-net program for women who receive suiting services from Dress for Success for an upcoming interview, but do not land the job. We work with each individual client through the Going Places Network to enhance their cover letters and resumes, develop an individual career plan with a job specialist, and hold career panels where they can network with hiring managers at major companies.
The new Dress for Success “boutique” of The Palm Beaches, organized by Volunteers from The Container Store. “Dress for Success Palm Beaches was thrilled when they offered to organize the new “boutique” that houses our professional attire.”-standfor.containerstore.com
Once a low income woman obtains an interview suit, what happens after she gets the job? What support systems are there for her and for her daily wardrobe? Are the clothes totally free?
Our women are referred to us through partnering agencies and must have a job interview lined up to be suited. Prior to her interview, we invite her into our boutique where she is styled from head to toe. We offer her suits, dresses, shoes, handbags, jewelry, beauty products and anything else she may need (absolutely free of charge). After the interview, if she gets the job, we provide her with enough wardrobe pieces for a five-day work week. If she doesn’t get the job, we sign her up for the Going Places Network where she receives resume-building tips, mock interview training and assistance with her job search.
Are women pre-qualified based on their income level or is Dress for Success open to all women?
Dress for Success is open to absolutely any and every woman. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, we all go through challenges and, regardless of our circumstances, we weather storms. We are all just one misstep away from needing help. Dress for Success is here to support women and build them up from the inside-out, no matter where they come from and what their current circumstance may be.
What message would you want to impart to organizations providing services and programs for women? What is missing out there?
Dress for Success supports like-minded organizations that are focused on helping women gain self-sufficiency. Whether these organizations are focused on women’s health, housing, family services, skills training or leadership, our collective job is to relay to the philanthropic community how important a holistic approach is to empowering women and how little funding is made available towards that work. As a global organization, we see first-hand that women between the ages of 16 and 65 years old need access to work opportunities. By becoming economically independent, adult women create an aggregated circle of beneficiaries – their families gain income security, their communities gain a robust workforce, and most importantly, the cycle of poverty is eventually broken.
How do you think I, Libby Hikind, and any of the six websites I have founded could work with Dress for Success to further empower women and women’s organizations?
There are so many ways you and any of your readers can get involved with Dress for Success:
- Give confidence with monetary donations. The monetary donations we receive directly support the development of our programs that offer our women the tools they need to achieve and sustain a lifetime of success.
- Donate nearly new professional attire to your local affiliate. This includes clothing, accessories and beauty products.
- Volunteer your time. Assist with our suiting program and style women for their upcoming interviews or join our career center. You can help boost her confidence through mock interviewing, provide her with resume tips that set her up for success or sign up as a speaker at our professional development workshops.
- Spread the word and empower more women in your community! Help us spread our mission by engaging with our social channels @dressforsuccess.
If you were called to testify before the House or Senate , what types of programs and funding would you suggest to stimulate the economy by providing a more skilled female workforce? What roadblocks are still present for low and middle income female workers?
I would suggest skills training and workforce entry programs for women 25-65 years old and leadership programs for adult women, so they can move to upper management and executive roles–not just entry-level or mid-level positions. What’s equally important to developing a skilled workforce of women are making innovative changes to issues like the minimum wage, maternity and family leave, access to higher education, health insurance for all and pathway development for women’s leadership in the public and private sector. Typically, women’s participation in the workforce is negatively affected by periods of unemployment due to childcare/family care responsibilities, lesser salaries than male counterparts for the same job, the lack of available income and time to attend or return to school, the lack of health insurance for themselves and their children in addition to the cost of high premiums, and the lack of visible leaders and change-makers to mentor other women in almost every industry. With the absence of change in the issues listed above, roadblocks will remain not just for low and middle income female workers but for all women who are participating in the workforce.
Describe Dress for Success in one paragraph.
Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Since starting operations in 1997, Dress for Success has expanded to 150 cities in 26 countries. To date, Dress for Success has helped more than 1,000,000 women work towards self-sufficiency. Visit www.dressforsuccess.org to learn more.
About the Author: Libby Hikind is the CEO of GrantWatch.