MN Bosses: “Nonprofit” Category, Joi Gordon, Dress For Success CEO
If you’ve ever looked for a job, you know the importance of dressing for the occasion. You have your power suit, a pair of pumps that say “I’m the woman you’re looking for,” and the perfect accessories to strike the right note.
But for many women, this is just one more struggle of the job hunt. Nonprofit organization Dress For Success is dedicated to helping disadvantaged women take steps toward economic independence, professional development and, as the name implies, a sharp look for that big interview.
Twenty years ago Joi Gordon was a lawyer in Bronx, NY. Three years later, she started her journey with Dress for Success when the organization was in a Greenwich Village basement. From donor to CEO, she has grown as the organization has.
We spoke with Gordon back in October, when she went into detail about all of the organization’s efforts beyond workwear. As our MN Boss in the “Nonprofit” category, she answered a few more questions for us.
MadameNoire: Describe your job.
Joi Gordon: I originally joined Dress for Success as the executive director of the New York program in 1999 and, in 2002, I took over leadership of Dress for Success Worldwide as CEO. A lot of people know us an organization that provides suits to women in need, but I am passionate about Dress for Success becoming recognized as an acknowledged leader in promoting the economic and social development of disadvantaged women around the world. I will not stop until women across the globe all have access to the resources and tools that they need to succeed in the workplace.
Since becoming CEO, I have spearheaded the rebranding of Dress for Success, complete with a new mission statement, tagline and logo. I have increased our organization’s focus to include employment retention, in addition to suiting, and because of that, Dress for Success now supports women as they find and retain employment as they turn their jobs into rewarding careers.
I am also proud to have created a three-day leadership conference for the women that Dress for Success serves. Inspired by my own experience attending a multitude of high-level leadership forums, I decided to create a forum for the women of Dress for Success—women who are not typically invited to events of this caliber. I quickly realized that the CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians who are often invited to these conferences were not the only ones who had something gain from these powerful seminars—and so Success Summit was established. Success Summit has grown into an innovative international forum for women who are on their way to becoming leaders and catalysts for change in their community and we recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of this event in Washington, D.C.
MN: What do you enjoy most about your job?
JG: I love being able to interact with the women that we serve face-to-face. My office is directly above our Manhattan boutique and from time to time, I will take a trip downstairs just to say to hello to the women who have come in for a suiting or for career counseling. Whenever I need to regain focus, this time with them serves as the ultimate reminder of why it is that I do what I do. They recharge my mind, my heart and my soul.
MN: What makes you a boss?
JG:Being a boss is about leadership, and I believe that being able to identify and cultivate talent is crucial. My objective is to provide an environment in which others can realize their full potential, can be inspired, creative and challenged and feel valued. It’s not about making all the decisions on my own; it’s about instilling confidence in my team members so that they can take initiative and become leaders in their own right. And I have always believed that having an open door and being approachable, willing to listen, are vital and underrated traits in any good supervisor.
MN: Can a woman have it all? How do you define that?
JG: Absolutely. But I think it is up to each woman to identify what having it all means to her rather than striving to attain a standard of success that someone else has defined for her. For me, it is rewarding personal and professional lives—and a balance between the two, keeping the focus on my family and my career—and I am proud to have achieved both. However, another woman could choose a different path and feel just as fulfilled. It’s up to each of us to define our ‘all.’