Dress for Success
As part of our celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke with our Groupon Grassroots partner organization, Dress for Success Worldwide, about their work supporting women to enter the workforce and develop successful careers. Donate to the Dress for Success campaign here.
Q&A with Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide.
Please describe how and why your organization was founded?
Dress for Success was originally founded in New York City by Nancy Lublin in 1996 with the help of a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather and two nuns in Harlem. With these resources, Nancy started Dress for Success in the basement of a church across the street from the New York University School of Law, where she was a student. Eventually, Nancy decided to take a leave from law school and devote all of her efforts to Dress for Success, where she felt she could provide the greatest benefit by concentrating on helping other women obtain steady paychecks.
With stories about the working poor making front page news on a daily basis around this time, it was clear to Nancy that she had tapped into problems that needed to be addressed globally. And the rapid expansion of Dress for Success further confirmed that this was the case. After just a short two years, there were already 20 Dress for Success affiliates throughout the United States and Canada. Today, our organization can be found in more than 130 cities throughout 16 countries.
What are the main issues that you address in your work?
The overall mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support, and the career development tools to help them thrive in work and in life.
While Dress for Success is best known for providing women with suits for job interviews, we also offer a variety of services to address every phase of a woman’s career—from being unemployed and searching, to recently employed and adjusting, to gainfully employed and succeeding.
Please explain why you now offer employment retention programs in addition to your trademark suits?
Soon after Dress for Success was founded, we came to recognize that finding a job is only one step in a woman’s journey towards economic independence and that remaining employed and building a rewarding career is essential if a woman is to become self-sufficient.
We have developed programs that are tailored to address the specific challenges that a woman faces at each phase of her career. The Going Places Network by Walmart helps unemployed and underemployed women gain professional skills, accelerate their job search and build confidence through weekly training sessions, one-on-one career coaching and networking in a supportive environment. The Professional Women’s Group (PWG) program offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, build thriving careers, and prosper in the mainstream workplace. Our Financial Literacy Program was created for women who have graduated from the PWG and provides them with the tools to understand ways to make the most of their money.
Do you think that the face of the disadvantaged woman has changed over the years?
The economy has had a very strong impact on the work of Dress for Success, and we see it most in the way that our clients have changed. When Dress for Success was founded, we were truly a welfare-to-work program, while today we see women from all walks of life. Over the past few years we’ve learned that there’s really no one face of the disadvantaged woman—she could really be any of us.
While we still serve women who have been on government assistance, we now also see former lawyers, former bankers, former teachers, women with PhD’s and Master’s degrees. We have women who walk in our doors and say, “I used to give you my clothes; I can’t believe that I’m the one now asking for help.” The thing that bonds all of the women who come to Dress for Success is that they are all in a place where they need a little bit of assistance, and we are here to provide it to them.
What impact do you believe having more women in the workforce can have on her community?
We help women as they journey towards professional success. With increasing success, they can, in turn, provide for their children and their greater communities because success isn’t just about being able to pay rent, it’s also about being able to pay it forward. When a woman returns to the workforce, she has the ability to establish a financial foundation on which to build a more secure life, a more stable family and stronger ties to her community. And through the course of 17 years, we have helped more than 700,000 women do just that.
As more women become employed and lift their families out of poverty, whole communities benefit. It is our hope that women will leave Dress for Success and embark on a professional journey, building rewarding careers and ensuring that they create new opportunities for themselves and their children.