May: Get Bossy & Define Your Own Success!

At Dress for Success, we refer to our women’s strides towards self-sufficiency as their “Success Journey.” By doing so, we acknowledge each of the steps that it takes—sometimes over smooth, paved paths and sometimes across treacherous, uphill terrains- to transform struggles into success.

Although the journey is not always easy, it is important to us that our women know that they are never on the journey alone. When a woman becomes a member of Dress for Success, she walks into our doors as an individual but she walks out as part of a powerful group.

Women who are still in search of employment may join our Going Places Newtwork by Walmart, a club of job-seeking women that comes together monthly to enhance their job search and interviewing skills. Women who successfully find employment may join our Professional Women’s Group, an association of working women that meets monthly to share and learn new ways to adapt to and thrive in business culture. Finally, for our women who are long term professionals- women who have been employed for a year or longer- we extend membership to our Associate Professional Women’s Group. As these ladies have mastered the workplace, we now help guide them along the path to complete self-sufficiency through financial literacy, debt elimination, and even entrepreneurship programs.

During the month of May, we celebrate the Success Journey through our annual Power Walk for Dress for Success. This first-of-its-kind 5K event, serves as a walking testament to the power that every woman has to achieve self-defined success.

Actor and humanitarian Michael Michele is no stranger to self-defined success.  During her candid Power Woman interview, Michael opens up about overcoming barriers and achieving exactly those things which the world says you can’t do. Her story is inspiring and eye-opening and I hope that it will move you to push beyond the limitations  which others try to set on your life.

A word of caution: Becoming a woman who is living your life your own way may lead you to be called many names- “bossy” may be among them. That is why, this month we’ve selected the hilariously empowering book Bossypants as our Book Shelf recommendation. We also took to the streets to talk to stylish women who are wearing professionalism their way. And because economic independence is the foundation of true independence, finance guru Carmen Wong Ulrich is back with money management advice that will help you keep your financial house in order until your success goals are fulfilled.

The journey to success is not always easy, but if you look at where you are in contrast to where you’ve been ,I’d bet that you can agree that you’ve already come a mighty long way!

Don’t give up!

Keep going, one step at a time.

Success may be closer than you think.

I look forward to seeing you at your success finish line!

 

 

 

 

Joi Gordon is the CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

Michael Michele’s Design for Success

Don’t underestimate Michael Michele. The actress, designer, philanthropist, and single mother is more than your average Hollywood beauty.

Michael Michele has been playing strong, capable women on television and film since the early 1990s. You’ve probably seen her on “ER” as the skillfully trained Dr. Cleo Finch with a scalpel in one hand and the perfect shade of red lipstick in the other. Or, maybe you’ve watched her on “Homicide: Life on the Street” as the hard-hitting Detective Rene Sheppard who solved murders without the help of her macho male coworkers.  You most likely saw her shining on the silver screen in “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days,” giving Matthew McConaughey a run for his money as advertising exec Judy Spears. And, we all watched her enter the drama-filled, rumor-ridden world of “Gossip Girl” as Serena’s no-nonsense boss, Jane.

Saving lives, catching criminals, and running companies is all in a day’s work for Michael Michele. It’s a wonder she somehow found the time to speak with Dress for Success about following her dreams and how sticking to her values is what truly led her to success, but we’re so happy she did and we hope that you can find something in her story to apply to yours!

For Michael, upholding her values as an actress meant breathing new life into characters she could admire and respect. From the get-go, Michael was on a mission to portray women as intelligent, talented and ambitious individuals. “It’s always been extraordinarily important to me that I represent women well. I can’t say that enough. Representing women well, especially women of color, is to represent the best that we can be.”

Hollywood wasn’t exactly on the same page. As a stunning young woman, casting directors expected Michael to play the birdbrained bimbo who liked to schmooze, booze, and cruise by in life on the arm of a well-to-do man. What other kind of role could a biracial woman possibly play? Michael had bigger plans. She set out to prove that she could be more than an alluring accessory to her male costars.

“It was a really turning point in my career when my representative said to me, ‘you will never play cops, docs, or lawyers. Get it out of your head, put on your heels, be sexy, be beautiful, and sell that. You’ll make money and have a great career.’ I thought, ‘since you told me no cops, docs, or lawyers, now I am going to pursue cops, docs, or lawyers.’”

But, not everyone was ready for a trailblazing woman like Michael Michele. “People did not want to hire me to play cops, docs, or lawyers. When I started in the early 90’s, it just wasn’t as common for a casting person to want me to play those types of roles.” Then again, Michael was never really too concerned with what other people thought, as long as she was sticking to what she knew was right.

When one door slammed in her face, Michael broke down another. Bent on playing women in powerful positions, Michael was gearing up to shatter the glass ceiling for women of color on television and film. “I had overtaken my obstacle and really pursued my dream, which was to do the very thing I was told I could never do.”

When Michael joined the hit show “Homicide: Life on the Street,” she stood by her commitment to playing women with nerve, and wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to do it. Michael was Detective Rene Sheppard, a tough cop with an intense story line. When Sheppard was facing a serious on-camera beat down, the show’s producer let Michael turn her pretty face black and blue because she wanted to accurately represent the unfortunate reality of the many women who become victims of violence throughout their lives.

“Normally, they would want to protect your face even though you’ve been beaten, but he said, ‘we are going to beat you down badly, allow the damage to remain for weeks on television, and heal for as long as it would normally take to heal.’”

Off screen, Michael strived to stay true to herself as much a she stayed true to her characters. So when she teamed up with Harvard University to promote mentoring in America, Michael decided to do things her way. Jumping at the chance to make a difference in her community, Michael asked Harvard to help her create a mentoring program of her own. She called it The Roundtable ChitChat, hoping to help the girls of New York City’s Washington Irving High School find their own set of core values to live by.

“I started working with my girls when they were 15. Our first mentoring session, they all sat around the table, looked at me, and said nothing. I moved the tables around in a circle so that we were all facing each other, and I said, ‘okay, we are going to chit chat.’

Living up to your values also means dressing the part. Fifteen years later, Michael is kicking things up a notch with M. Michele Designs, a clothing line that allows every woman to create a sophisticated style on the outside that expresses the success-bound superstar she is on the inside. Michael knows style is more than just the latest fashion fad. “It has less to do with who’s stylish, what’s on trend, who’s wearing what, and how much it costs. It’s really about what reflection comes back to you when you see yourself.”

Today, more than ever, Michael wants to help other women who are reaching for the stars while staying down-to-earth. “I know that the journey that I have been on professionally, and the navigation of my life and my son’s life, is meant to share at some point.”

Like the women of Dress for Success, Michael’s journey began as a quest for economic independence, but she soon learned that the greatest freedom comes from being true to yourself. Now, she’s at the top of her game and she wants every woman to know that they, too, can find success in their career– and life– by standing up for what they believe.

Success starts with a plan! Here are Michael’s three tips to keep you Going Places. Going Strong.

1. Have faith in yourself. There will be times, especially if you’re looking for employment, when you only have yourself.

2. Be prepared. If you want something, you have to give one hundred percent.

3. Find a way to relieve stress. Working, providing, and pursuing our dreams can become very stressful. 

 

Being a “Momager”: Tips on Being Successful in Your Job While Juggling Life & Family

By Reesa Staten, Robert Half International

Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day, and there is no shortage of personal stories reflecting the struggles working moms face as they balance job and family obligations, all the while reaching for the next rung on the career ladder.

Full disclosure: I am a female executive, but not a mother. My biggest career influence, however, is a working mom. My own mom. She was ambitious at a time when few women openly admitted to having career aspirations.

My mom’s career started shortly after high school when she left her small town in Maine for a bigger small town in Iowa to look for her first job and take courses at the local college.

Mom was married a few years later and, within a year, was a new mother to my older sister. She kept working, first out of financial necessity and later, as she has confided, because she couldn’t picture herself not working. It was the best example she could set for her two daughters. When I was a young girl, my mom was the family’s chief breadwinner. She never missed an opportunity to ask for a raise or promotion when she felt she deserved one, and she didn’t shy away from changing jobs when it meant more money or better benefits.

Her primary goal was always to build a better life for her girls. Mom once told me of the time she set her sights on a long-vacant property in town, a fixer-upper built in the early 1900s. (I think of George Bailey’s drafty old house in the film It’s a Wonderful Life.) The house wasn’t for sale, so she researched public records to find its history. She learned the home was in a family trust and, determined to have the home, she made an offer.

I can envision my mom (5’1”, 90 pounds) in 1960s middle-America marching into the trust attorney’s office with a verbal offer and little collateral — except courage and a personality that told others she was someone to bet on. My mom taught me the importance of not backing down from a challenge. She also taught me the value of asking for what you want. We got the house, and it was the first of many steps-up for our family as my parents worked to build a future for their children.

Times are different today, but the lessons my mom taught me guide the decisions I make every day. Below are seven things I learned from watching my mother be both a successful working woman and a dedicated mom.

1. Be someone others can count on. In a healthy office environment, people look out for each other. Managers and colleagues will be more likely to provide you with flexibility if you have earned their trust. Show you are part of the team by volunteering for assignments, covering for a sick colleague and returning the favor when someone asks you for assistance with a project. In doing so, you will have a better chance of getting the support you need when you’re faced with conflicting work and personal demands.

2. Get organized. My mom’s favorite quote is, “When you want something done, ask the busiest person you know.” She was precisely that person at work and at home. I try to be that go-to person in my office, too. Busy people have a gift for multitasking. They make (and complete) to-do lists. They tackle challenges head on; they don’t wait to be asked, they do what needs to be done. It’s this level of initiative that makes it possible to accomplish more than you thought possible. When my mom eventually retired, it took two full-time people to replace her.

3. Be stingy with your personal time. My mom did not burn the midnight oil. She was home by 5:30 every night, and she didn’t work weekends. She also didn’t take the job home with her — mentally or physically. This separation of career and family is important. You need that mental divide between the “you” at work and the “you” that is mom, wife, friend or family member. This advice applies whether or not you are a parent.

4. Prioritize. Consider everything you would like to accomplish at work and outside the office and then rank these tasks in terms of importance and immediacy. At work, there are times when a project will be both business-critical and time-sensitive — it has to be on the boss’s desk tomorrow, for example. A longer-term assignment may be equally important, but have a longer lead time — researching potential locations for an off-site meeting, for instance — which means it can wait until you handle more urgent matters. When you can prioritize in this way, you will be better able to direct your efforts where they are needed most and avoid becoming overly stressed.

5. Stand up for yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. Mom once told me of the time she covered for an absentee coworker whose job required using a Burroughs adding machine — state-of-the-art for its day. When the woman eventually left the company, mom quietly stepped in, balancing the books to the penny each month. When she learned the firm had advertised to fill the vacancy with a Burroughs expert, mom asked for a meeting with the company president, where she politely explained that she was already doing the job and had been for several months. She felt the position should be hers, and the company president agreed. She was just 22 at the time, and it was the first of many promotions in mom’s career.

6. Ask for help. The reality is that sometimes we can’t do it all. Accept this fact and look for ways to build your support network. Stay close to family members. Get involved in your local community. Attend school or church fundraisers. Make friends. These network connections will help you down the road because they are all sources of advice, referrals and direct support.

Do the same thing at work. If your job is one where you can delegate all or parts of assignments to others, don’t be afraid to do so. Some people are afraid to delegate either because they don’t think the other person will do as good a job at the task, or they fear the person might do a better job than them, which could put their own job at risk. The problem with that logic is that if you let your work back up, you risk missing deadlines, which also reflects poorly on your performance. You could end up in the very situation you were trying to avoid by keeping projects for yourself.

7. Look for alternatives to traditional work hours. My mom did not work in the era of telecommuting and job sharing. Fortunately, we do. In many offices, alternative work arrangements are becoming commonplace. Try to investigate the possibility of flexible scheduling options that might give you more balance, such as part-time work or a compressed workweek.

Even if your company doesn’t offer these programs on a formal basis, it’s worth talking to your manager about any possibilities that might exist. For example, many employers allow workers to arrive early on occasion so they can leave the office in time to meet personal obligations. Just keep in mind tip #1 above.

Be prepared to make a case for how such a work arrangement could benefit your employer and not just you. For instance, a compressed workweek, during which you work four ten-hour days and have three days off, might allow your company to extend its business hours. If you can show clear advantages with a flexible scheduling option and make it easy for your manager to implement, you’re less likely to meet resistance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a good “momager,” just as there is no easy way to balance work and personal demands. As a working parent, you will always have a long list of activities, events and projects competing for your time. If you have a strategy in place for managing them, you may find work/life balance a little less difficult to achieve.

It will never be easy — but then that’s why we have a special day set aside each May to recognize the super moms who perform miracles and magic tricks every single day. Happy Mother’s Day.

Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at reesa@roberthalf.com.

The Success Diaries: Gina Bianchini

Dear Pre-Launch Gina,

Gina, take a deep breath.

You have woken up at 4 am every morning in terror, consumed by all of the things that could go wrong. However, after a few minutes facing your greatest fears, you slowly wake up and remember, ah, yes, this part sucks.

Like you do every other morning, you choose to power through and, by the time the sun is up, your excitement and curiosity about Mightybell – and the need for a beautiful collaboration space for friends, families and colleagues – outweighs your fear.

You jump out of bed excited to tackle the list of things you are going to do today. You know that you do your best work when you focus on the things within your control. Defining success externally has only ever gotten you into trouble.

You want to put Mightybell out quietly and hope that people discover it and like it. Then you realize that is a really terrible plan. The world doesn’t work that way. Even the most amazing products in the world – take the iPhone and the iPad as examples – benefited from a strong advocate.

You are going to have to do the same for Mightybell.

Creating the product is the easy part. When you are creating, you get to live in the happy fantasy that everyone will get it and love it immediately. I have never known anyone who prior to launch believes anything other than they have a massive hit on their hands.

You aren’t yet at the hard part of putting it out there, selling it and hearing people tell you they don’t need it, they are busy or they don’t get it. That part is always harder than you think it would be.

Yet, you will make it through that part as well. That is where you distinguish yourself from the pack.

Resilience. You have it. With it comes a commitment to never, ever giving up. You will fight through the pain and keep going. Resilience was always there but choosing sports and choosing to make a strong effort in school helped prepare you for this moment. Choosing the harder paths when you had a choice made it easier to weather the storms outside of your control– like Dad dying suddenly in a car accident when you were 11.

Sometimes, the will to keep going will be enough. Other times, staring failure in the face and choosing to keep moving forward despite the risks will make the difference. At this point, you have quite a portfolio of techniques to move past the fear to optimism, excitement, and the possibilities that come with each new product, feature and conversation about Mightybell.

It isn’t always easy. In fact, it rarely is. But the confidence that comes with choosing to break past the fear and do it anyways is priceless.

Keep going.

Love,

Launched and Running Gina

 

 

As the co-founder and former CEO of Ning,  Gina Bianchini has been a leader and innovator in social media for nearly a decade. Today, Gina serves as the founder and CEO of Mightybell, the online community where you can create groups with friends around what interests you.