“I knew that I wanted a role in a company or organization that would allow me to make a difference. Dress for Success has done just that.” Joi Gordon, CEO Dress for Success Worldwide
When Joi Gordon graduated from law school, she began working as an assistant district attorney. While she found the work interesting, Gordon says something was missing.
“For me, that wasn’t going to fill my cup every day.”
Gordon found her purpose when she joined Dress for Success in 1999 - first as a donor; then a board member. Founded in 1997, the goal of the not-for-profit organization was to provide suits to underprivileged women as they entered the workforce. Gordon was one of three people working out of a church basement in New York City.
“There was something about this organization that attracted me,” says Gordon. “I was going to be able to make a difference in women’s lives and quite frankly, they were going to make a difference in mine. So I was all in.”
While Gordon was excited to work at Dress for Success, her father didn’t feel the same way. He was a blue collar worker who equated success for his only child if she one day became a lawyer, doctor, nurse or accountant. But Gordon realized she needed to follow her dream, not her father’s.
“You have to figure out what’s going to make you happy – what’s going to bring you joy,” says Gordon. “If you didn’t have to be paid to do it, what would you do in life? Take that as your course. Ultimately, I needed to follow my path.”
That path took her to the top spot at Dress for Success Worldwide in 2002. When Gordon was appointed CEO, she came to a realization: If Dress for Success truly wanted to create success for women, the organization had to provide more than just suits.
From mentoring to financial literacy programs, Dress for Success launched programs to address every phase of a woman’s career under Gordon’s leadership. One of the organization’s signature programs is the Going Places Network sponsored by Walmart (NYSE:WMT). The program has helped over 14,000 unemployed women gain professional skills, accelerate their job searches and build confidence through a weekly training program and career coaching.
“That’s where we really do find success – in her journey,” says Gordon. “Giving her the coaching, mentoring and leadership techniques has been our sweet spot as an organization as we develop her into the woman she is today.”
Dress for Success Worldwide has grown from an organization helping disadvantaged women in New York City -- to one that serves over 850,000 women in almost 140 offices located in 20 countries.
“There are so many more countries to go -- so many more cities to reach -- so many more women who need us,” says Gordon. “We want to serve all women. Not just one demographic. Any woman who walks through our door, we are going to be there to open it.”
Seventeen years and counting… Gordon says she’s blessed to have a job that combines her passion with her purpose.
“It’s one thing to give to an organization and write a check, but not know what happens at the end of the check. I get to see the end of the check every single day she walks through the door. I can’t figure out what I would replace this job with that would give me the same amount of satisfaction and the same adrenaline that Dress for Success gives me every time I wake up.”