At one time or another, nearly all of us have faced the dreaded job search. Filling out applications, typing up cover letters, and perfecting a resume, all in the hopes of getting to the anxiety-inducing interview process. The entire process is so stressful that just writing this makes me want to hide in my van for another year. All this apprehension and dread, and I’m fortunate. I took classes in communication; in speech and debate. Part of my educational component involved learning how to convey (fake) confidence with both public and one-on-one speaking.
If you’ve secured an interview, the pressure intensifies. Now it’s time to plan for it. You have to dress for the job you want, but shopping isn’t something we all enjoy (although some of you may revel in this part of the process) and style is certainly not my forte. However, I’m acutely aware that the right outfit instills confidence. Much like playing a role in a theater production, once you don a suit or similar professional attire, you feel more prepared to play the role of job interviewee. It must seem impossibly daunting for those who, due to poverty and/or societal limitations, have not had the same training and education that I’ve enjoyed. Access to these vital tools assuage the stress of looking for a job and allow one to go confidently out into the workforce.
The stress of this process is compounded for many women who may also be single mothers needing to support their children while trying to enter the workforce without any guidance or support system.
I simply cannot imagine how overwhelming this must feel.
Fortunately, on a late August morning in Davenport, Iowa, I learned that there are agencies and organizations in place to help with all of this. Housed in a building built in 1910, near the banks of the Mississippi river, Dress for Success Quad Cities is an organization striving to give “every woman, no matter where she comes from, the potential to reach great heights.”
Entering the old brick storefront, we were greeted with smiles and enthusiasm by the staff and volunteers. A quick tour showed us the boutique area where women get “suited up” with their personal shoppers before they go out on their first interview. With one glance around, it was evident that the layout was set up to give the women a positive, fun, and exciting experience while selecting their professional outfits. It felt like all that was missing was a Hollywood makeover montage complete with inspiring music. Suddenly, I wanted to have the same experience, which as a person that does not enjoy shopping or trying on clothes for any reason, is really saying something.
Beyond the storefront and fitting area, a large warehouse area overflowing with clothes, shoes, and accessories was buzzing with volunteers going through donations, sorting outfits, and preparing to change the seasonal clothes for the cooler temperatures of fall and winter.
We joined the volunteers, many of which are retired women eager to give back to their community using their skills and interests in clothing and women’s fashion. But their help goes beyond clothes. They also provide resume reviews and mock interviews. They have an “On the Move” program that is a 5-week series of workshops designed to assist job ready women to improve their skills and abilities. Offering financial advice, mentoring, and coaching, the staff and volunteers are determined to lift up others, offering long-lasting solutions that enable other women to break the cycle of poverty.
After someone finds employment, Dress for Success doesn’t stop their mission. They not only provide a week’s worth of professional wardrobe, but they also invite the women to join their Professional Women’s Group (PWG) to provide a support system where volunteers, staff, and alumni of the PWG empower them with additional skills and networking to retain their jobs, build their careers, and continue to thrive in the workforce.
Beyond the Quad Cities, Dress for Success is a “world-wide sisterhood of support with over 148 affiliates in 26 countries across the globe.” Try watching this video with dry eyes.
There is a focus, as well there should be, on equality and the barriers and constraints that are currently in place that make it hard for a woman to break the cycle of poverty or to achieve financial independence. Additionally, far too often we hear about how much women are tearing each other down. Organizations like Dress for Success are focused on being part of a solution. The women (and men) that help out are there for the same reason: To build up women so that we all can share “a world where women do not live in poverty,…where all women are financially independent, are treated with dignity and respect and are directly impacting their lives and those of their families.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If there is one near you, consider doing a clothing drive.
Get your business to be a corporate partner.
If you work for an organization that provides job training or employment services and would like to partner with Dress for Success, please go to their website for information on how to get involved.