Turn Obstacles into Opportunities with UN Women’s Lakshmi Puri

UN Women and Lakshmi Puri are amplifying voices of the women’s movement and leading a worldwide quest for equality and empowerment.

 Since 2010, Lakshmi has traveled the world to speak for women who cannot speak for themselves, turning obstacles of social progress into opportunities for global change. Tackling universal issues like poverty, violence and unemployment head-on is all in a day’s work for UN Women’s Acting Head, but Lakshmi’s remarkable career and inspiring story still carry a meaningful message for the everyday woman. This month, Lakshmi Puri spoke with Dress for Success about how economic independence is more than a personal goal—it’s a global movement—and why sometimes standing on your own two feet means leaning on others for guidance and support.

Named after the Hindu goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi grew up in an Indian culture that worshipped women in the temple, but turned a blind eye to their poverty in the streets. “Particularly in Asian cultures, there are contradictions in the way women are regarded. On the one hand, there is a deification of women as powerful goddesses. But, at the same time, religion, culture and tradition are interpreted to strengthen patriarchy.”

Lakshmi knew she was destined for more than a life of dependency on a man, setting her heart on self-sufficiency from an early age. Soon, the freedom of her nation became the independence of her people and Lakshmi witnessed a momentous era of progress for women first-hand. “I belonged to a generation of women who, after the independence of India, went into the professions with a completely different perspective on gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

For Lakshmi, pursuing a professional career meant embarking on a journey to independence on the road less traveled. So, she looked for direction from the greatest support network of all—her family. “My family was very empowering. We were all girls, three sisters, and each one of us chose a different career path, but my father and mother were both very clear that we should have a life, identity and career of our own.”

By the age of 21, Lakshmi’s strong family foundation had helped her childhood dreams evolve into a flourishing career as she began working with the diplomatic service. And when the opportunity to work with the UN came along, Lakshmi jumped at the chance and joined the Indian delegation to the Commission on Human Rights in 1981. Finally, in 2002, the hardworking diplomat joined the UN as an international civil servant and climbed the professional ladder to become Assistant Secretary General and one of the most influential women in the world.

But even though Lakshmi’s career took off with an international leap, she still packed her small town values in the pocket of her power suit before she left the ground. Lakshmi was determined to help women around the world pull themselves up by lending them a helping hand and, in the last three years, she’s been working around the clock so that one day all young girls will have the resources to turn their most challenging barriers into windows of opportunity for success.  

My work with the UN really shaped my whole perspective on the gender equality issue globally. Advocating for women’s empowerment is a big challenge, but also a big opportunity. We have made great gains, but there is still much to do, especially in ending violence against women. We at UN Women are addressing all of these issues.”

And no one knows women’s issues like Lakshmi. The meaning of independence may change across cultures, but women in every corner of the Earth need guidance and encouragement to thrive in life. If there’s one thing Lakshmi’s learned throughout her world travels, it’s that there are certain freedoms that all women simply cannot live without.

“As I travel from Africa to Asia to Latin America and the West, I find that there are basic rights all women want and need– the right to live a life free from violence, the right to an education, the right to be able to choose how many children they bear and educate those children, the right to see a doctor. All of these rights are common aspirations for women everywhere.”

Just as Dress for Success believes in women helping women, Lakshmi believes in bringing people together to build a structure of support for their empowerment. Just last March, at the Commission on the Status of Women, governments adopted a historic agreement on ending violence against women. With the support of UN Women and thousands of civil society members, local voices were brought to an international level.

Now, Lakshmi wants every woman’s voice to be heard in the fight for a brighter and more prosperous future for generations to come. So, where do you fit in? Just remember those two magical words: economic independence. As a Dress for Success supporter, you’ve probably heard us say this phrase a thousand times—truth is, it’s become as much a part of our slogan as our beloved “Going Places. Going Strong.”—but what you didn’t know is that this powerful word set has become the motto of organizations the world over, including UN Women.

“Economic independence is key, and it’s all about access to resources – natural, productive, financial, skill-building, and social—and essential services like health, education, transportation and decent work. Economic empowerment for women is essential to their ability to resist violence, benefit from education, pursue further skill development and training, participate in politics and become leaders in the corporate sector.”

So, what’s next for Lakshmi and UN Women? With the next generation of anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals to work towards for the next several years and plenty of hurdles still left to clear on the track to success, their work is far from over. “We hope through Dress for Success that we can send a message to women and men who want to support women and girls’ empowerment around the world.”

Lakshmi may lead UN women on a global scale, but she still knows a thing or two about individual success. Here are three tips inspired by Lakshmi’s words of wisdom to help you get your career off the ground.

1. Know what you want, and go after it! Lakshmi thought she wanted to be a doctor, but sidetracked into humanities and history instead and found her passion for diplomacy. Sometimes our career dreams change, and we can’t be afraid to follow them!

2. Make your voice heard. Lakshmi’s global work teaches us that many women struggle for the right to choose the life they want to live, but they fight to make their voices heard. Don’t let someone else dictate your success.

3. Break the glass ceiling. It’s easier said than done, but it’s important for women to take their careers to new heights with leadership positions and well-paying jobs. Don’t worry, women like Lakshmi have already started to pave the way!

Make Quick Money on the Smartest Investment of All – Yourself!

Financial Advice By: Carmen Wong Ulrich

Q: I’m down to my last month in savings, and I need to make money fast! I’m having a hard time finding employment, but I heard that you can make money just by investing money. Should I invest my money to try to make a quick profit before next month? If so, where can I find the best investments with the fastest returns?

A: You know that old saying, “Too good to be true”?  Well, imagine if what you said was true.  Imagine if you could just invest some money and then make money, every time, in a short time.  Well, we’d all be rich! 

The truth is that investing means one thing:  No guarantees.  Why?  Because to invest money means to take on risk—the risk of losing money, sometimes, a whole lot or even all of it.  There is no guaranteed quick-money-making investment.  Not one.  Yes, some folks—few folks!—get very, very lucky and make a return on an investment over a couple of months or years.  But, certainly not weeks, which sounds like your time frame.

In your situation, you need the opposite of risk.  You need a guarantee.  You need income, real income, and quickly.  The only way to do that is to earn it.  But, you don’t necessarily need to earn it the usual way.  You can try legitimate sites on the web with hourly work such as TaskRabbit.com, where you can hire yourself out based on your skills such as running errands, putting together furniture, housekeeping or data entry.  Also, try your local message boards.  Yahoo message boards exist for thousands of neighborhoods around the country and AOL has the Patch network.  Sign up and scan listings for local jobs. 

And in the meantime, spend some time on your biggest investment—YOU.  Never stop reading or learning or building your network of friends and contacts.  Ask folks you admire for help with a solid career-growth plan.  Every person you meet and impress builds a framework to ensure your hard times of finding employment end up in your rear view mirror.  Now that’s an investment!

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the co-Founder and former President of ALTA Wealth Management and a Professor in NYU PolyTech‘s school of Finance and Risk Engineering. She is an author and the former host and co-creator of CNBC‘s “On the Money,” and currently the money advice columnist for Good Housekeeping, a contributor to MSNBC and CNN as well as a frequent expert guest on ABC’s “The View.

Sunscreen & Skincare: Incorporate SPF into Your Beauty Regime!


Somewhere between Victorian parasols and 1980’s foil reflectors, tanning came back in style. I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but women went from shading their pristine complexions with dainty accessories to baking themselves with coconut oil under the hot summer sun. But today, more and more women are realizing that taking care of their health means taking care of their skin, and that sunscreen is the first step to a more beautiful complexion. That’s right. The skincare movement is back and it’s made sunscreen its top priority, because you simply can’t have one without the other.

As a nineties baby, I’ve come to experience the ongoing battle between wanting that perfect bronze glow and fearing the consequences of too much sun exposure first-hand. On family vacations, I would slather on the tanning oil and refuse to wear sun block much to the disapproval of my parents’ watchful eye. We may have been 20 degrees from the equator—home to the strongest UV rays on Earth—but, as far as I was concerned, I was even closer to the perfect sun-kissed skin tone.

Now, as a third-year college student, I still encounter that age-old question: To tan, or not to tan? And, in a world where tanning beds are chic and sunscreen is taboo (thanks, Jersey Shore!), it can be hard to choose the right answer. Thankfully, the cringe-worthy beauty mistakes of my teenage years managed to teach me at least one thing: sunscreen and skincare never go out of style. But don’t take my word for it. Medical experts and beauty gurus around the world are saying the exact same thing.

According to WebMD, applying sunscreen on a daily basis can help reduce your risk of skin cancer and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. In fact, a recent study found that young and middle-aged adults alike can actually slow down the process of aging by up to four and half years just by regularly using sunscreen! Best of all, sunscreen is a cheap alternative to expensive anti-wrinkle creams and it’s super easy to incorporate into any beauty regime.

Not everyday is a trip to the beach, but by working some SPF into your skincare routine you can make every day a youthful one with products that enhance your natural beauty and prevent sun damage from harmful rays. Check out these four tips to get started!

1. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen as a primer. Sheer makeup does not provide enough coverage to protect you from the sun, but using a broad-spectrum sunscreen as a base for your foundation will block both UVA and UVB rays.

2. Wear makeup with SPF for an extra layer of protection. Get natural-looking coverage with a tinted moisturizer that nourishes and protects with SPF 15. Layering this on top of your sunscreen will lock in the protection you need to make it through the day.

3. Don’t forget your lips! Your lips burn just as easily as your cheeks! Burt’s Bees lip balm is an all natural solution, or you can add a fun pop of color to your look with a tinted balm!

4. Apply a long-lasting lotion for outdoor adventures. Coppertone Sport is waterproof and sweatproof! Plus, its broad-spectrum protection is oil-free. 


Book Shelf: Leslie Bennetts’s “The Feminine Mistake”

Today’s modern woman is all about independence. She breaks out her own toolbox to fix a leaky faucet, enjoys alone time with her favorite book every Sunday afternoon, and shops for polished power suits with her own paycheck. She’s the ultimate multitasker and a juggling expert, because these days women can have their cake and eat it too.

So, if women are aspiring to have it all, why are more and more female professionals giving up their careers and relying on their husbands to foot the bill? Why are so many women making the classic “Feminine Mistake”? Leslie Bennetts is on a mission to find out, and remind women everywhere that independence is more than a luxury—it’s a necessity—and every woman deserves to know the real reason why.

In “The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?”, Leslie challenges women to take their independence all the way to the bank and take responsibility for their futures. Talking with real women about their personal experiences of making the feminine mistake – choosing a lifestyle of economic dependency—she gets to the bottom of why a man is not a financial plan.

Leslie’s candid interviews and hard-hitting facts pack a powerful punch and a valuable lesson that women of all ages can take to heart, and Dress for Success believes in her message. “The Feminine Mistake” tells women that becoming economically independent is the first step on their journey to success, and that having a family and a career can be one of the most rewarding milestones along the way.

Inside Track: Tips for a Successful Job Interview

By Reesa Staten, Robert Half International

For most people, job interviews rank near the top of the list of life events that cause anxiety, and with good reason. The stakes are high in these situations, particularly if you really want — or need — the job you’re going for. 

As with most things, preparation will increase your odds of making a good first impression. I’m sure we all can remember at least one occasion when an interview did not go well, and if we’re honest, it was probably because we walked into the meeting unprepared.  

What follow are eight tips for acing the job interview. Some of these lessons I (and others) learned the hard way. I share them with you now so you have the inside track on a successful first meeting with a prospective employer.

1. Research the company and the opportunity. You should go into the interview with a beyond-the-basics knowledge of the firm. Read the company’s website, marketing materials and relevant news stories to learn its mission, history, reputation and corporate culture. A simple Google search can uncover a wide range of information. The more you know, the better able you will be to convince the hiring manager that you are an excellent match for the company and the job.

2. Practice. Enlist the help of a friend or family member and practice responses to common questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why do you want to work here?” And be ready for the curveballs like “Who is your favorite fictional character and why?” There are no right or wrong answers to these types of questions. The employer is looking for clues as to how you think and some insight into your personality.

3. Arrive on time. Being late is a deal breaker for most employers. One way to ensure you’re not late is to plan to arrive half an hour early. You’ll give yourself some leeway in case traffic is worse than expected or you get lost. If you find you have time to spare, use it to review your resume or check your appearance in the restroom. Arrive at reception five to 10 minutes before the interview is scheduled to start, but no earlier. 

4. Be honest. Interviewers often ask you to describe your weaknesses. While you don’t want to launch into a list of reasons they should not hire you, try to provide a little color on your work style. Saying that your greatest weakness is that you “work too hard” or “can’t help but be a perfectionist” are clichés and will make you seem insincere. Instead mention an area where you could improve and describe the steps you’ve taken to do so. Just don’t tell them you have no weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, and the employer knows this (see tip #5).

5. Be humble. Never underestimate the power of humility. Employers like to see that you are self-assured and assertive, but being overly confident or cocky will leave a bad impression. Show employers that you can take direction and that you understand the company’s business objectives. Demonstrate a willingness to learn and an openness to new ways of doing things. These are all signs you will contribute to the company in a positive way.

6. Don’t disparage past bosses. You may be asked by an interviewer why you left a particular job. Regardless of how unhappy you were in that position, avoid sounding bitter or resentful or badmouthing a former supervisor. This will prompt the hiring manager to wonder if you will be equally critical in your new job. Companies want to hire people with a history of loyalty, successful collaboration and a good attitude.  

7. Dress to impress. If you are reading this blog, you know how important it is to “Dress for Success.” First impressions count, and professional attire tells the hiring manager you take the job opportunity seriously. Make the best impression by wearing a clean, well-fitted suit, dress or similar outfit. Go easy on the accessories and the fragrance, and when in doubt, err on the side of dressing a little more conservatively.

8. Save the demands. The interview is like a first date. You are getting to know the employer, and he or she is getting to know you. Avoid giving a list of demands like salary requirements, benefits and vacation days. This tells a prospective employer you’re more concerned about the perks than the job itself. Focus your efforts instead on what you can offer the company by asking what expectations the employer has of someone in the role.       

The best advice for a successful interview? Just be yourself, show the employer you are qualified for the job, and make a persuasive case for why he or she should hire you over everyone else who interviews. And don’t be bashful about asking for the job — you just might surprise the hiring manager into saying yes!

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: Ceci Johnson

Dear Ceci Johnson, “The Big Dreamer,”

As you fantasize about what it would be like to start your own business and dream about what that path would possibly look like if you became your own boss, allow me to help shed some light on what that big unknown could be like for you. While everyone’s road is unique, here is a glimpse into what the world of entrepreneur could be like. I want to share with you the best business advice I’ve learned along the way that you can apply to your own experience on your road to success.

The first and most important step is don’t let the one thing that prevents most people from taking the leap get in your way: Fear. I’m a firm believer in the saying “you never know until you try.” And if you don’t try, how will you know? So let’s face your fears and get started!

First, you’re wondering what that road will look like, right? Will you even like it? Well, one of the major things I’ve learned is that success doesn’t happen overnight. I truly thought that if I launched a beautiful website, everyone would hire me and I’d be so successful. Well that didn’t entirely work. I quickly learned that’s only ONE piece of the big puzzle.

I thought success looked like a straight line that only went up. But in reality, success looks more like a roller coaster, complete with ups and downs and wild curves and swerves. You have to weather the ride and keep standing strong through it all, no matter what.

Starting your own business means a commitment to never giving up and pledging your life to a thing called dedication and persistence. You are going to get on a ride that will be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It will be challenging, exciting, addicting, and tiring – but most of all rewarding. This incredible fulfillment will keep you getting out of bed each morning to keep on going. My husband once told me that starting a business is equivalent to pushing the heaviest boulder up a steep hill. I always remember this and I think when times get tough, I have to keep pushing and not let go. Otherwise, the boulder may roll backwards and crush me, taking with it all my hard work. Do not let that happen!

When you start down this road, never lose sight of your original vision – the dream that started it all. Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t let anything distract you. The more you grow, the more exposure you will get, be aware that more people will want something from you (often for free). Because of your nature, you may then want to help, but just remember, “Love doesn’t pay the bills”. Align your in-kind donations and charitable efforts with those opportunities that make sense for your brand and give you the most ROI (return on investment).

Always protect your brand and know that it’s OK to say no. Politely declining jobs that aren’t the right fit will be the best thing you could ever do for your business. Accept the fact early on that you can’t be everything to everyone. You are not a commodity.

If you want to build a luxury brand, don’t say yes to DIY clients, they will only be a time-suck and keep you from working towards your dreams and achieving your goals. Take a moment to ask yourself, will this really help my future goals? Is this worth my time? If you answer no, then politely decline and feel 100% confident in your decision because you’re working towards something bigger than that! Your laser-sharp focus will reap you bigger returns in the long run, trust me.

Always do your homework and understand your competitive landscape before you start, especially when it comes to pricing. Record how much time you really spend on your work. Put a fair price on your hourly rate from the beginning. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices because you are worth it. If you don’t think you are worth this, then how will your customers? Know your value and always stand behind it.


When times get tough (and they definitely will) remember to take a step back and utilize the power of the number 24:

“Your hardest day only lasts 24 hours.” – Charles D. Hoffman
Give it the old 24 hour rule.

Responding emotionally in business never gets you very far. So it is best to utilize the 24 hour rule. Take some time to think things through, settle down and get your facts straight. Taking care of the situation first thing in the morning versus the night before (when your upset customer is calling you screaming at 9pm), is more productive and equally effective. Remember not to take things personally whenever you can – especially when it comes to your business. Now, I don’t mean you shouldn’t have emotion or passion in your work, I’m saying that there will always be challenges (and challenging customers) and when you take them personally, you are letting your emotions get in the way. Just remember it’s not personal. It’s just business. Solve the problem with a rational mind not an emotional one and you’ll be on the right track.

Embrace that you will be working a ton of hours like never before. Being your own boss doesn’t mean a free ride to fancy lunches and days on the golf course while everyone else does all the work for you. It’s entirely up to you and your determination to accomplish the level of success you dream about. You have to be ok with giving up your social life in the beginning and know that you might have an occasional melt-down on Friday nights (or any night for that matter) when your business isn’t going the way you had thought it would. Instead of drinking cocktails with your friends like you used to, you may be stuck at your computer working on a deadline. Working late nights might become the norm and waking up at 3 a.m. when inspiration strikes may occur frequently (keep a note pad handy).

Know that this dedication will pay off in the long run. Even though you feel totally alone, as you are emotionally at your low and wondering to yourself, is this all worth it? Just comfort yourself and remember if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it. It’s a special group of individuals that have the entrepreneurial gene. And you are going to make the world a better place, one step at a time.

As your business grows, you will find yourself in great demand and your ability to multi-task and wear many hats may start to become very difficult to juggle and sustain at the speed you desire. Acknowledge that you are only one person and the demands you are putting on yourself are not right for one single person to handle. It’s either time to hire or scale back.

As you wonder, “should I hire an employee to help?” consider this golden advice, “when you hire a person, you hire a problem.” Everybody comes to the table with their own issues and requirements that you now have to deal with.  You must dedicate extra time to work with them and manage them clearly. You can’t expect to hire someone and for them to automatically be perfect, require no training or management and just know exactly how your mind thinks. This takes a lot of time management and time away from what your original passion was. Setting clear expectations and planning ahead will be your saving grace. Be sure to take time to think and create mindful systems that work for all parties. This initial time you take to do this for your business will be the foundation for how you set yourself up for growth in the future.

Consistently listen, crave feedback and ask the best question in life – “Why?” I always say that curious minds are the smarter minds. Understanding why is everything in business. You will go far if you continually ask why.

Don’t be afraid of failure. I always am mindful of these helpful words of a good friend, Simon T. Bailey, “Failure isn’t final. It’s only feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions.” When you are open and listen to feedback and then apply that feedback to your business, you are continually improving. Once you think you are at the top and start to check out, you’re irrelevant. Someone new will pop up and steal the spotlight from you. You must never give up and keep on refining your company as you go. Continually evolve. Improve. Reinvent and innovate in all you do.

Keep your focus, drive and determination strong and it will bring you success. But above all, don’t let all this success get the best of you. Check your ego at the door. Be humble. Be kind. Be grateful. Be respectful. Never forget where you came from and those that helped you along the way. And most importantly never be too busy to say thank you.

Still dreaming big,
Ceci Johnson (10 years later)

P.S. My biggest mentor was my father, Charles D. Hoffman. Below is a cheat sheet of all his best quotes that I hope will inspire you along your way. Print it out and put it somewhere where you can be reminded of it daily. Hope his words of wisdom help you as they have me.


Ceci Johnson, Founder & Creative Director of Ceci New York 

Ceci New York is a couture invitation studio that is considered the industry trendsetter and tastemaker, spanning not only the worlds of weddings but also events, corporate branding and other fine paper goods. At the helm is celebrated artist, designer and visual stylist Ceci Johnson who brings the ultimate in luxury branding to clients around the globe. In addition to her highly regarded design house, Ceci’s online lifestyle and fashion magazine, CeciStyle.com, has fast become one of the leading resources for the discerning bride. See more at cecinewyork.com.


Ask DFS: How Can I Brush Up on My Networking Skills?

Dear DFS: 

I recently became unemployed a few months back and have been looking for work ever since. My friends and family keep telling me that I need to put myself out there to find a new job, but I’m not exactly confident in my networking skills. How can I make the most out of my social circle while building new relationships at the same time? Where are some good places to meet potential employers? Who should I talk to? How do I present myself when I’m unemployed? Help! I’m in serious need of some effective networking techniques!

Ready to become a social butterfly!

Jennifer, Dayton

Dear Jennifer,

Kudos to you for taking charge in expanding your professional network and establishing key relationships. Creating strategic connections is critical to your overall career development. Networking requires us to step just outside of our comfort zone and putting ourselves “out there” can be scary. Here are few ways to boost your networking skills (almost) effortlessly:

Watch how you introduce yourself. One of my favorite bloggers, Divine Caroline, suggests that we avoid using the words “I’m unemployed” when networking. Instead use phrases like “I’m between jobs. I just left a company that does X. And now, I’m looking to join a company that does Y. Hey, I wonder if you know any companies like that?” or “I am a job seeker” or “ I am committed to finding an employer who would value my talents in X, Y, and Z. I’d love your ideas about companies that might fit that bill.”

Ask for introductions. Whether you know it or not people within your network have networks of their own. If you have colleagues, associates, or friends who are connected with decision makers (i.e., Human Resource Managers, business owners, etc.,) don’t be afraid to ask for a formal introduction. If you can’t secure a formal introduction try getting their contact information such as first and last name or email so that you can connect with/follow them on social media sites.

Don’t go in for “the ask” too soon. The biggest problem people have with networking is going in for the “ask” too soon. Keep in mind that you’re looking to build relationships not asking for favors. Don’t introduce yourself by asking for a job! Show interest in your potential connection and I can guarantee you that they will show interest in you. Remember, being interested makes you interesting.

Capitalize on social media.  What social media platforms do you use to connect with others? In the new economy you need to expand the ways in which you’re identifying opportunities.  You should be following leaders in fields that interest you and professional associations related to your desired field on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure that you are connecting and formally introducing yourself to key people in your desired field via LinkedIn.  Check out my favorite guide for creating an effective LinkedIn profile.

Make the most of your time offline. Find venues and events where the purpose is to develop and attract professionals. Join Meetup.com and search “Professional Women’s Networking Group” in your area. Take care to attend events that are specifically designed for networking with other like-minded women, business professionals, and decision makers.

Jennifer, most importantly I encourage you to never stop networking – everywhere that you go, everyone that you touch may know someone who has an opening. Use every conversation as a way to gain another name to contact. Maintain a support network that is aware of your unemployment and personally invested in your return to the workforce. A support network provides personal contacts that can help you redefine change and adjust through unemployment.

Building a network takes time. I hope these tips will help you build your professional network and move you further in your career.

Wishing you continued success!

Shantell J. Malachi

Executive Director

Dress for Success Central Virginia