It’s a rare thing in 2018 to come across an organization that doesn’t just hold charity at its core, but within its very origin story. And yet, speaking with Joi Gordon, CEO at Dress for Success Worldwide, you’re instantly hit with the realisation that this isn’t just a job for her, it’s a way of life.
At the helm of an international not-for-profit, dedicated to helping women break free from societal constraints and climb the corporate ladder, Gordon has a lot on her plate.
“Dress for Success is an organization that helps women who are striving to get into the workplace,” she told us in a recent interview. “We give her the support she needs, both in terms of professional attire and the fundamental tools she needs so she can thrive in her work and in her life.”
The organization was launched 21 years ago in New York City, and has since grown exponentially to cover 28 countries, employing over 12,000 volunteers and having served thousands of female clients. The story of how the global phenomenon came to be, starts with an unlikely inheritance and an eager law student.
“Nancy Lublin, the woman who founded the organization, was a second-year law student in New York,” explained Gordon.
“She received an inheritance from her grandfather of $5,000, and wanted to invest in women. Looking for the best means of doing so, she met with three nuns in Harlem, NY, to talk about what she could do to make a difference to their lives.”
“At the time, the nuns were working specifically with women coming out of prison. They told her that the biggest challenge was that these women were expected to instantly find work – but they had nothing to wear.”
From here, the idea was born to offer women professional attire to attend job interviews and feel powerful and prepared –essentially dressed for success.
“It’s such a simple idea,” continued Gordon, “we started out as an organization for women who needed clothes, but we quickly evolved beyond the attire to a wrap-around service for female jobseekers.”
“Yes, it’s important to dress her on the outside – but that wouldn’t matter if we don’t dress the inside too. We give her the tools she needs to not only land the job, but climb the corporate ladder.”
And these values are so imbedded into Dress for Success’ internal culture, that they emanate the staff base too.
“This is a non-profit community – so we do a lot with less, as is the non-profit mantra, and that’s how it feels a lot of the time,” explained Gordon.
“We’re very lean, we have a talented team – mostly women, but we have a few great men too. We all work very hard toward our bottom line, which is making women succeed. It’s about making sure the environment here is one which speaks to what we expect from the women. By treating women with dignity and respect, we really foster that internally, with our staff, as well as externally with the women we help.”
And it seems as if this culture of inclusion and diversity is working to attract new recruits, as Dress for Success continues to appeal to women looking for a career that has the ability to make a lasting difference.
“It’s a great environment, it’s a great place for a woman looing to get grounded and find her purpose,” said Gordon “– especially if she’s interested in empowerment and gender issues. It’s a truly fantastic place to launch and build a career, with varied and exciting opportunities.”
“We’re a nimble organization with a lot of potential for growth – a lot of potential to learn as an organization and from a personal perspective alongside the colleagues that thrive here.”
C-suite talks HR: Michael Burns, CEO, Invictus Games
Why millennials have changed their mind set