You can change a woman’s life by donating just an hour of your pay to Sydney-based charity Dress for Success’s Empower Hour campaign for International Women’s Day.

The not-for-profit helps thousands of women from disadvantaged backgrounds get back on their feet and find their way to secure employment and gain financial freedom.

Through a range of initiatives, the 300 women a month who walk through the charity’s doors are empowered, upskilled and enabled to break through difficult circumstances towards work success.

“Donating just one hour of a person’s pay enables us to transform women’s lives,” Dress for Success’s newly appointed CEO, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, tells The CEO Magazine. “We instil confidence, we instil dignity and provide the employability skills necessary to get into work.”

Tanya is the former Executive Director of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service and has worked with disadvantaged groups for almost two decades. She has helped vulnerable people seeking asylum, taught English to refugees, and worked for federal Labour MP Anthony Albanese advising on immigration issues.

“We are currently dealing with people who’ve lost everything in the bushfires. We had a woman here this morning who’s come in because she’s lost all her clothes.”

In 2018, Tanya was named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence and winner of the social enterprise and not-for-profit category. She was appointed CEO of Dress for Success in November 2019, succeeding Ursula McGowan.

Helping those in need

Tanya says Dress for Success is aiming to help about 3,500 disadvantaged women with its services this year.

Some of the women walking through the doors of Dress for Success have never had a job before. They may be rehabilitating back from the criminal justice system or single mothers fleeing domestic violence. Some women are displaced and financially struggling after the recent Australian bushfires.

Dress for Success

“We pack and send clothes to women in prisons who are coming out of jail or have a court case coming up, and also to women in the regions who need work-appropriate clothing.

“We have employer partners that have provided work for many of the women who’ve never had a job before, or some who’ve been struggling for years to get work because of their record. So, for them, it’s life-changing.”

“We really try to make each woman feel that she’s unique and special.”

Tanya reiterates that no matter the background or circumstances of the women, they are always treated with equal respect. “They are listened to and we provide tailored services based on their needs.”

More than being suited up

It takes more than a good outfit to empower a woman to thrive in work and life – which is why Dress for Success provides free programs and services that upskill women to gain and keep employment.

Dress for Success aims to instil confidence, restore dignity and provide the employability skills necessary to secure employment and achieve financial stability.

As well as providing professional clothing and styling sessions, the Dress for Success package also includes one-on-one coaching sessions, peer mentoring networks, career development workshops, job interview training, resume support and mock interviews.

“The common thing that most women leaders have is that they understand the importance of mentoring and coaching and ongoing learning, and that’s certainly something that we can provide here.”

Dress for Success engages with some of the top recruiting HR companies in Australia to provide these workshops and mock interview sessions.

The charity also participates with refugee and migrant organisations to help displaced people. “In their previous home, they were accountants, IT experts, teachers, social workers. They’ve got years of experience, had to leave everything and come to safety, and often struggle to find that first Australian job,” Tanya explains.

Many of the women who walk through the charity’s doors don’t have their own computer to type up a resume or job application. “Our job support centre is a space where we can have a coach or a recruitment person sitting down with them one-on-one and giving them hands-on advice.”

The one-on-one consultations is where the “journey of being lifted up” starts, Tanya explains. “Somebody is listening to them,” she says. “That’s the importance of being listened to, heard, seen and valued. They’re the things that we try to instil in our clients.

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“They’re made to feel special. There’s a real discussion around what their specific needs are.

“We give people the confidence to become good at networking and all the things that one needs to actually get that job.

“And as we know, you invest in women, you’re investing in many other people in the community. Get women into work and not only their life but the lives of their children significantly improve.

“That’s what people are investing in by investing an hour of their income. They’re advancing the lives of children, their family and the women in their families.”

An impact study coming out of Central Queensland University showed that every dollar invested in Dress for Success gives A$5 of social return on investment.

Could not be done without volunteers

“You have women sitting in the reception area waiting for an appointment who look a bit glum, down and out, they’d be possibly anxious or nervous. Then they get whisked into our changing area where we have stylists who sit down and chat to them,” says Tanya.

Tanya stresses that all this couldn’t be achieved without the help of volunteers. People who she describes as a “wonderful, very committed bunch of people” who “provide this very loving service” and “really care”.

“The volunteers really are a committed bunch of women who are passionate about transforming women’s lives.”

The volunteers at Dress for Success – some who have been volunteering for 10 years – give up their time to help with styling, packing and sending clothes, and making women feel welcome when they walk through the doors.

“I come into work going, ‘Who are we going to help today?’ And just to see people’s lives change like that is wonderful,” Tanya says.

How you can help

Dress for Success Ambassadors includes Solotel CEO Justine Baker, Salesforce CEO Pip Marlow, Elizabeth Broderick AO and QANTAS Media Editor in Chief Kirsten Galliott.

“Solotel is thrilled to partner with Dress for Success and I’m honoured to be an ambassador of Empower Hour, raising much-needed awareness and funds for disadvantaged women,” Justine says. “It is about making a real and practical change to women’s lives.”

Pip adds that Salesforce has been a long standing supporter of Dress for Success Sydney as it works to help women re-enter into the workforce.

“Our team are passionate about supporting the women in the program and are actively involved in a broad range of activities, from interview preparation to sorting and selecting clothing that will help the women feel and look professional in their new roles.

Dress for Success

“Providing pathways to economic independence is critical if we are to empower women and enable them to overcome personal challenges. Salesforce is extremely proud to be part of a network that helps women thrive in work and in life.”

Tanya says the organisation relies on funding and corporate donations. “We also love having corporate volunteers come into our showroom and assisting with organising the large amounts of clothes that we receive, helping our volunteers with styling and providing professional volunteering.

“For organisations that have HR departments or have coaches, there are specific volunteer positions available that we’re always looking for support for.”

“It’s essential that CEOs, as the leader of an organisation, lead by example. Women CEOs who have got to a position of leadership are role models for all women in Australia. You can’t be what you can’t see. And certainly, that’s why it’s so important that we have women on boards and women in leadership in many different roles,” she says.

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for women leaders to stand up and say diversity is important. It’s also important that we keep fighting for the equality of pay. We must think about other women at this particular time of the year.

“If CEOs of organisations stand up and say, ‘I’m happy to be an ambassador, I’m going to donate my pay, let’s encourage this throughout the organisation’, they’re leading the way. It has an extraordinary ripple effect.”

“Even now, in the 21st century, it’s a challenge. I’ve got two daughters, and I can’t believe we’re where we are now. There’s a lack of representation of women in the boardrooms and at ministerial and cabinet level.”

“There’s a lot that needs to change. It’s imperative that we reflect and look to women leaders to voice the need for that change.”

Empower Hour will launch at an ‘In Conversation’ event on 18 February, with Elizabeth Broderick, former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, speaking at the event, interviewed by Kirsten Galliott.

Just an hour of your pay can transform a woman’s life and set her on a path to success. Pledge an hour of your pay and encourage your employees and networks to do the same. You can make a real contribution to the lives of thousands of Australian women.

Donate here and contact Dress for Success here.

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