Today, it is our honor to welcome Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide to The Fit List. Joi inspires us through her commitment to a life of service, her dedication to helping women to achieve success, and her infectious energy and positive spirit:
- Did you always intend for your career to be in the not for profit space? If not, what did you do before? I always intended to live a life of service. I went to Journalism School and then got my law degree. I started out as a prosecutor in the Bronx, but I found that to not be as fulfilling as I thought it would be. I needed more purpose in my life.
- How did you first get involved in Dress for Success? I really stumbled upon Dress for Success. I responded to a Dress for Success call to action to donate a suit. I jotted down the phone number to call about donating, and from that conversation, I ending up becoming a board member! From suit donor to board member all in one phone call!
- What about Dress for Success inspired you to want to get more involved? I was early in my career. I was right out of law school, and I found the energy to be courageous, and the mission fed my soul. Dress for Success had grown organically to a worldwide organization. I began running the NY “office” (we were in the basement of a church). In those days, we were not a name brand, and we were nothing flashy, but I fell in love with the mission and purpose. Just think about this notion. Through giving a woman a tool (the suit), she could change her life. She could gain the confidence and belief in herself to change her life. Then from there, we could help her to define what success looks like, and give her more tools to help her on her journey. I, myself, was raised by a single mom who wanted to give me a quality education, which at times meant working three jobs to make it happen. I saw my mom and myself in every woman we helped, and I wanted to give other women the same chance that my mom had given me.
- What is the most challenging part of your job? Without a doubt, fundraising is the most challenging part of the job. Every year, we essentially start from zero. We depend on our donors. We have no guaranteed income stream. It’s all about building and maintaining relationships and, even with that and even as a strong brand, we are competing with numerous not for profits all looking at the same funding streams. In order to keep our mission going, we have to take a very “business” approach, be smart, build alliances and develop relationships.
- As a working mother, how do you find balance? I have a daughter who is in her second year of college and a son in high school. To get my balance, I made certain rules. Particularly when my kids were younger, I wouldn’t travel for work on the weekends. I wouldn’t take speaking engagements on the weekend. Even though I was constantly traveling during the week, I knew that I would be there on the weekends to make it to games, school events and other things that mattered to my kids. I also have a loving, supportive husband who picked up the slack, being there when I couldn’t. Our partnership made it work and, now, even with my kids being older, I like to keep my weekends for my husband and myself.
- What makes you feel confident? My confidence comes from the women that Dress for Success serves. Their resilience and strength is amazing. Both in my personal life and professional life, I know my mission is to work really hard at making others’ lives better, and that purpose gives me confidence.
- Do you ever have a day when you are feeling not so great about yourself? If so, what do you do to get yourself back on track? Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter is what gets me through. Also, you have to have perspective. I may be having a bad day, but I take a step back and quickly realize my life is great. You have to enjoy the life you have. There are so many others who have a lot more struggles and pain. My mom told me that I was named Joi for a reason. She said she knew I would be a Joi, and part of my mission in life is to live my name – to have joy and to bring joy to others.
- What advice do you have for any of our college students who want to work at a not for profit? Are there any specific courses you recommend? Find something you are passionate about. How do you want to serve? Is it children, youth, animals, the ecosystem? Where is your heartbeat? Then volunteer. Volunteering is a great way of investing and, sometimes, the intersection of volunteering and passion helps you find purpose and career. Volunteering is an exciting way of getting you engaged. It helps to develop your network and connect you with people. You never know what other leadership opportunities that may bring.
- If any of our readers want to get involved in Dress for Success, how can they help? We always invite people to go through their closets. If you have clothes you aren’t wearing, make a donation. That’s the way to get your toe in the water. Then figure out how else you want to help. Do you want to review resumes? Do mock interviews? Speak on a panel? To get started, connect with your local Dress for Success and, if there isn’t one, maybe you should start one! You might want to organize a day of service. Your local chapter is key to help you understand what is needed. What items are in short supply? What are the items we need donated most? And by the way, if it isn’t Dress for Success, get involved in something! There are so many causes and so much opportunity and, frankly, for those of us who can, we have a responsibility to help others.
- What does “She’s Fit to Lead” mean to you? How does someone become Fit to Lead? To me, “Fit,” means physical and mental fitness. You have to take the same energy that you put into your physical fitness and living healthy and put that into your mental fitness. Do your homework. Do your research. Be smart. Make smart choices. All of this takes work, but when you do the work, results come.
- What did we miss? Dress for Success is known for our “the dress.” In fact, we help women succeed in work and life in many other ways. We offer numerous services that wrap around “the dress,” such as financial education, civic engagement, leadership and health & wellness. Know that there is no free suit! We expect our recipients to give back when they are able, and to invest in continuing to grow. That suit may help them find a job, but it is the total package of support that keeps them employed and on the path to success.
Thank you Joi, and welcome to the Fit List!
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