The DFS Toronto Boutique located at 5150 Yonge Street. The storefront provides a welcoming place for clients to come for their transformative suiting appointments.
In March 2020, Sabrina Howe secured a contract position in financial services after being out of work for nearly two years. Howe had been working in customer service and administration in the sector for five years before her father passed away in 2018, resulting in her taking time away from her career.
“I didn’t know how to get back into the proper headspace to find employment,” says Howe, who is living with anxiety and depression.
Howe completed a back-to-work program through the Canadian Counsel on Rehabilitation and Work, which helps people with disabilities find employment. The counsel referred her to the Toronto location of Dress for Success to help build her confidence, starting with a professional wardrobe.
“Before the appointment, I was feeling so insecure and unconfident with my professional self and about starting a new role, and I left feeling on top of the world and ready for my new job,” she says about her initial appointment at Dress for Success.
“I had a team of cheerleaders rooting for me, and not just for me but for the other women who were there for appointments. It was such a lovely moment of women empowering other women.”
Photo: Sabrina Howe, Dress for Success client
The pandemic, however, cut Howe’s contract short. She credits Dress for Success Toronto’s virtual programs for keeping her motivated and helping her manage her mental health. The workshops covering everything from tailoring resumés, to interviewing, and exploring mentorship opportunities are a big help, but she is particularly grateful for the wellness workshops that are getting her through the pandemic.
To help remove barriers to employment for disadvantaged women like Howe, Scotiabank is donating $400,000 over two years to Dress for Success’s Professional Women’s Group program. The donation is a signature piece of ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year $500-million initiative aimed at promoting economic resilience among disadvantaged groups.
“We are proud to support the work of Dress for Success Canada Foundation, an organization that has made a meaningful impact in the lives of so many women seeking employment by providing the proper mentorship, attire and networking opportunities that are critical to a successful career,” says Loretta Marcoccia, EVP and Chief Operating Officer for Global Banking and Markets (GBM) at Scotiabank and Executive Lead of The Scotiabank Women Initiative for GBM. “Like The Scotiabank Women Initiative™, the Bank’s involvement in the PWG program is an excellent extension of our support for women to help them pursue their best professional and financial futures.”
These past few years, the need to help women succeed has been even greater. From the outset of the pandemic, women have borne the brunt of economic shutdowns and added family responsibilities, Statistics Canada says. The agency’s Economic and Social Report on employment one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, notes that women accounted for 62.5% of overall job losses in March 2020 and 53.7% of year-over-year employment losses to February 2021.
Dress for Success’s clients are traditionally low-income earners — women from BIPOC communities or newcomers and non-binary individuals and women recovering from mental and physical injuries —trying to better provide for their families, but COVID-19 has changed that demographic a bit, says Catherine Curtis, CEO of Dress for Success Canada Foundation. “We’re seeing women from all walks of life and levels of employment and education who are trying to figure out how to get back in the workforce to provide for their families,” she says.
Providing a woman with a professional outfit that will help her feel confident during her interview is the signature piece of Dress for Success, Curtis says. “It empowers her to feel strong and ready to take things on.” However, she emphasises that it is just the start of a client’s journey, which includes being provided with the tools needed to make it through the hiring process including career coaching, resumé writing, how to interview, and how to create a LinkedIn profile.
A key step in the program, and the part Scotiabank is providing funding for, comes after clients have secured employment. Dress for Success’s Professional Women’s Group Job-Retention program provides women with the support and tools they need to navigate the challenges faced in not only retaining a job but building a career. Those tools include connecting the women, regardless of socioeconomic position, to networking and mentorship opportunities. Additionally, it supports clients through at least their first year in a new position, by providing formal learning experiences within a cohort of peers in areas such as financial literacy; management and negotiation; communication skills; navigating bias; building work/life balance skills such as time management and setting boundaries; and leadership skills such as coaching, mentorship and problem solving.
Having gone through a divorce and a period of financial struggle, Curtis understands the importance of giving women the opportunity to live up to their potential. “Fortunately, I had employment that I enjoyed and that allowed me to advance in my career. I love being able to have a role that feeds my family and my soul,” she says.
Dress for Success, started in a church basement in Manhattan by Nancy Lublin, a second-year law student who had a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather, the help of three nuns and the desire to help women succeed in their careers, is in 150 cities in 25 countries. Canada has 13 affiliate locations serving communities from Vancouver to Halifax and the foundation, which oversees donations from national partners and provides affiliates support and direction, says Curtis, who took over the helm of the foundation seven months ago.
We’re seeing women from all walks of life and levels of employment and education who are trying to figure out how to get back in the workforce
— Catherine Curtis, CEO, Dress for Success Canada Foundation
She sees Scotiabank’s donation as being twofold: it offers important financial support; but it also brings awareness both public facing and with Scotiabank employees and could lead to volunteerism, which is the nuts and bolts of what keeps small grassroots organizations going.
“It’s not just transactional, it’s not just cutting a cheque and looking for metrics, Scotiabank wants to be engaged and find ways for their employees at the local level and at the corporate level to support important work being done by affiliates from coast-to-coast helping women and non-binary individuals thrive in work and life,” Curtis says.
Howe, still looking for a job, hopes to find a role that lets her give back and make a positive impact. “After losing my dad to mental health and addiction, and living with a mental health disability myself, I’ve found a new passion for awareness and advocacy for mental health. I would like to help break down the barriers it creates, especially in employment, which has been amplified by the pandemic,” she says.