Dress For Success CEO Joi Gordon Built Her Career By Staying Put At A Nonprofit She Loves

October 21, 2013  |  

 About 20 years ago, Joi Gordon was armed with a law degree and found herself working for the DA’s office in Bronx, New York in order to add some legal experience to her resume. Soon, she was looking for a way out. “It wasn’t in my heart to be a lawyer,” she says.

Now, she’s 17 years into a career with Dress for Success, the organization best known for outfitting female job seekers looking to get a toehold in the workforce. But Dress for Success isn’t just getting suits to women who need them for job interviews. The organization, according to a mission statement that Gordon has revamped during her tenure, seeks to “promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support, and career development tools to help them thrive in work and in life.” We saw that mission in action last month when Dress for Success hosted a “Power Breakfast” at the New York Stock Exchange to promote its financial literacy program.

Dress for Success has a presence in 125 cities across 15 countries, serving 65,000 clients around the globe. The organization works with women who find themselves in homeless shelters, coping with domestic violence, and in need of skills to find a job. The majority of the women who come to the organization are between the ages of 18 and 38; 70 percent are single mothers, many with more than one child. In the US, more than 70 percent of the group’s clients are women of color, and many of those women are African American.

Gordon began as a donor, then moved on to become a board member at a time when they were looking for a lawyer to join. She was asked to eventually run the New York office as the organization began branching out into other countries.

“I fell in love with the mission of the organization,” Gordon told MadameNoire Business during an interview. “I would just light up when I talked about it. I just knew this was the right thing to do.”

When she first started working with the organization, it was located in a basement in Greenwich Village. As Dress for Success has grown, so has Gordon’s career with the nonprofit, such that she’s worked her way to the top. While many people can’t wait to get settled into an company and then pull up stakes to move on to the next, Gordon says the opportunities with her organization have been plentiful.

“We’re so much more than clothing,” she said. “We’re helping our woman be her best self in her work and her life. It’s still fresh and there is a lot of opportunity for growth.” She started with the organization when it was two years in. Watching it grow — and facilitating with that growth — has provided her with an education beyond her law degree, helping her to understand what it means to run an international organization.

“Sometimes people are so impatient about their careers,” Gordon told us, offering advice to others looking to grow their careers. “There’s something to be said for having a sense of loyalty to the company you work for. The grass isn’t always greener.”

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