How to End the Cycle of Poverty

In 2014, the official overall poverty rate in the United States was at almost 15 percent. For children under the age of 18 years old, that statistic jumped significantly to more than 21 percent—almost a full quarter of our nation’s children. We have heard the phrase “cycle of poverty” repeated for so long at this point that we have forgotten just how very real the struggle to be financially stable is. And that is just in America. Today, over a quarter of the world’s population—so somewhere around 1.8 billion people—still don’t earn enough to have reliable access to food. And a billion people are “extremely poor,” earning less than $1.25 a day.

The numbers simply don’t lie: adults who remain in financially challenging situations pass these same obstacles down to their children and this pattern continues on through the generations. So how do we begin to change these numbers to tell a different truth? What would a world without poverty really look like?

When Dress for Success was first established, we were very much a welfare-to-work organization. Over the years, the face of the Dress for Success woman has changed—she can hold a Bachelor’s degree just as often as she could hold a benefits card (sometimes she is even the owner of both!)—but the fact still remains that we as a society have much to do to eradicate poverty and expedite the economic independence of those in our global community who are so eagerly striving to obtain it.

An undeniable barrier facing poverty is, quite frankly, getting jobs that pay living wages. Workers are finding it difficult to maintain themselves and their families because the only employment they’re able to secure are positions that pay them below what they need to simply survive—let  alone thrive—as productive members of society. In order to elevate the economic status of our lower income peers around the world, we need to find a way to increase their wages.

Millions of men and women are working low paying jobs as maintenance workers, janitors, taxi drivers, waitresses and other occupations in the restaurant/fast food industry. These are necessary roles that must be filled to maintain the quality of our collective life, but jobs such as these offer shockingly low wages and little—if any—benefits. And let’s not forget that most of these positions are only offered on a part-time basis. Many employers hire several part-time positions because having a high quantity of staff is still less expensive than having to provide benefits and paid time off to full-time employees, even though the quality of work arguably suffers. Whether part-time or full-time, all workers should be compensated with a wage that allows them to provide for themselves and their families, as well as to plan for their future—to those inevitable days that will come where they simply are not able to work any longer, be it due to an emergency or a planned retirement.

Once we see the wage increase that our global society so desperately needs, we need to ensure that it’s implemented justly across the board. As we all know, despite how far we’ve come with women’s equality, women are still paid more than 30% less than men here in the U.S. for doing the same work.

In 2014, the median income for women who worked full time was $39,621 compared to that of men which was $50,383. Due to the wage gap, it’s no surprise why a great amount of women fall into poverty. This is a problem that all businesses must rectify, however, the ability to make an impact does not solely fall on the institution. Working women can do their part by allowing their voices to be heard, asking for raises or promotions based on the value and performance they bring to their jobs. Yet women tend to shy away from such situations because of the fear that it will be detrimental to their careers. Speaking up and taking initiative is perceived to be a risky endeavor. A recent article in The New Yorker shows that when women take the initiative to ask, being assertive and authoritative, they are often seen in a negative light. They are perceived as “tough” and employers are less inclined to work with them.  We need to create infrastructures and environments that encourage more women to speak up for what they want and receive what they rightfully deserve. Closing the gender gap alone would cut poverty in half for working women and their families.

Unequal pay and low wages are just a few of the many challenges we face in poverty. Women who fall into poverty are often also caregivers—workers who are mothers caring for their children and also at times their sick or aging relatives. The hurdle they face is the lack of policies to support them. Among advanced economies, the U.S. stands alone in not mandating for paid leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act. When caregiving duties call and a woman must take time off from her job, the result can be a drastic reduction in her paid work hours.  One can imagine the conflict faced in deciding whether to stay to earn the money from the job she needs or take leave because of the necessity of caring for an elderly family member or a young child. Not having paid leave creates fear of financial security— anxiety of whether she can make enough money in spite of the other challenges in her life.  As a result, after an absence from the workplace, a women is less likely to return, leaving her struggling to find a new career path and leaving a company scrambling to fill a new position and train a new hire.

Out of 185 countries, the U.S. stands with Oman and Papua New Guinea, both developing nations, in not granting paid maternity leave. Some of the developed nations that do offer paid maternity leave include the United Kingdom, which offers 40 weeks, and Vietnam and Ireland, both offering 26 weeks. Research shows that paid maternity leave of up to five months increases mothers’ employment. More women will enter and remain in the workforce as a result of paid maternity leave. Providing employees with paid leave is vital because it fosters a workplace culture in which mothers and caregivers belong in the work world. A study based on California employees and employers provides evidence of this phenomenon. Workers with low-quality jobs who used family leave insurance were more likely to return to their employer: 82.7% of workers who used paid leave returned, compared to 73% who did not have paid leave.

Wage increases, pay equality and paid family leave are all major issues to tackle, but I think that we as a society are up to the challenge. As the saying goes, “there’s no better time than right now,” especially as we see more women becoming the main providers for their families and as more women are aspiring for greater leadership positions throughout all sectors of industry. Plainly put, every aspect of the world suffers when the employment rate is low and the poverty rate is high, and we have suffered long enough.

So what does a world without poverty look like? It’s a world where every child has an education and is able to read because they don’t have to drop out of school to earn money for their family. It’s a world where family structures are strong and sustainable because parents are afforded the time away from work that it takes to lay a solid foundation on which the family can be built. It’s a world where workers are happy to perform their jobs, which leads to higher rates of production and better quality work. It’s a world where women have a true voice because they are provided with infrastructures that empower and support them, which leads to more women in leadership and more profitable companies.

Achieving a world like this requires the efforts of everyone. It requires us all to advocate for the government to perform its duties by ensuring that it implements policies that serve to help all people. We need to be vocal about the need to maximize programs and policies that empower women because empowering women worldwide is not just a win for women, it’s a win for everyone—and it’s a huge leap forward in eradicating poverty across the globe.

Lizanne Kindler on Rekindling the Talbots Brand

 

In 2012, Talbots was predicted to be one of top ten brands that would disappear by 2013. Coming out of the recession, the Massachusetts-based women’s clothing company experienced a period of profit losses, waning clientele and was looking to close almost 20% of their stores. Enter Lizanne Kindler. The retailer was barely treading water when Lizanne, the brand’s former Executive Vice President of Merchandising, returned to the company as the President and Chief Executive Officer.

“We like to call it my very long vacation away from Talbots,” she jokes.

Today, Talbots has more than 500 retail stores and outlets throughout the U.S. and Canada, and attracts some of the country’s most powerful women as clients, including First Lady Michelle Obama, who touted the brand on national television this year with Jimmy Fallon.

Emerging from years of brand dilution and experimentation with trends and audiences, Talbots has recreated a cohesive style, focused on women’s professional wear with a classic foundation and modern edge. Under Lizanne’s direction, Talbots has streamlined its marketing and defined itself as a brand that empowers women both through the power of fashion choices, as well as the company’s philanthropic support of our very own organization. Such tactics have brought Talbots out of the rat race and into a unique space in the retail industry. Lizanne credits her part in the redirection to an internal sense of competition.

“I don’t get caught up in what you would call the shiny bright objects,” she explains. “I don’t really think about my drive as it relates to other people and that has enabled me to stay extremely focused with a tremendous amount of clarity around what I can achieve.”

Unlike many in her field, Lizanne was equally attracted to the business aspect of retail as she was to the fashion. Before originally linking up with Talbots, Lizanne began her career at Ann Taylor Inc., where she climbed the ranks to serve as Senior Vice President of Merchandising over the course of 15 years. At Ann Taylor, Lizanne was instrumental in guiding the foundational stages of their ecommerce, as well as kick-starting the now lucrative youth brand, Ann Taylor Loft.  She then joined the Talbots team for a three-year period before accepting a position as Executive Vice President of Product Development at Kohl’s to gain a piece of retail education missing from her resume. Without any direct knowledge of product development and sourcing, Lizanne’s strong communication and relational skills gave her an edge, but the ability to recognize her own strengths and weaknesses became her most valuable asset.

“In any leadership position, but especially as a female executive, you don’t want to appear as if you don’t know, so you have this need to feel like you have everything under control, but I’ve found that it’s so much more powerful to just understand that you can’t control it all the way down to the lowest level, you have to trust that the talent you have around you is going to drive it,” she says.

Now back at Talbots, Lizanne has the self-awareness to trust in her own strengths as an executive and the humility to place the same amount of confidence in her team. This model has encouraged her employees to work collaboratively in cultivating a mutual respect and opening Talbots to new opportunities for growth, both internally and externally. Lizanne maintains a diverse team of professionals around her and is proud to lead an executive leadership team where seven out of 12 members are women.

With more than two decades of experience as an executive, Lizanne now leads an international brand with employees that number in the thousands, but her business savvy can be traced back to childhood.  Born in Denmark, Lizanne and her brother were raised by deaf parents. From a very young age, she became somewhat of the family ambassador, handling everything from her parent’s tax returns to booking their plane tickets. Early exposure to handling her parents’ external affairs gave Lizanne the interpersonal skills necessary to move steadily up the corporate ladder.

“I was sort of their ears and voice to the world, so I learned very early on that communication and how you connect with people can be very powerful, and can change the outcome of a situation,” she says.

As Lizanne got a little older, her parents braved drastic career changes, quitting their jobs in factories to become teachers for other deaf learners. As an integral part of their interaction with the outside, she was inspired by her parents’ strength and curiosity to make their mark on a world where they were intrinsically marginalized.

At 11 years old, Lizanne traveled to the United States for the first time to visit her aunt, who had moved to Washington, D.C., and ran a department store chain. Though Lizanne admittedly didn’t know exactly what she was witnessing at the time, she watched as her aunt in a leadership role and returned to Denmark devout in her career choice. Her aunt was breaking through “glass ceilings” before that phrase became commonplace and Lizanne became enamored with her aunt’s work ethic and business savvy, as well as her accomplishments within the workplace.

“She became my role model. My parents were my backbone, but she was really my north star,” says Lizanne.

Even with decades of experience and as an accomplished CEO, Lizanne consistently leverages the foundational skills she learned outside of the classroom and the office. “I wake up every day coming in to win and do better, but with the appropriate amount of humility and ambition,” she laughs. And it is this mix of qualities in Lizanne’s leadership that has helped Talbots recreate a legacy that is shared through generations and consistently keeps women coming back to shop for more.

November: Handling the Hectic Holidays

As if maintaining some semblance of work-life balance wasn’t hard enough already, now it’s the holidays!  Not only are you obligated to your hours in the office and responsible for fulfilling your role at home, now you have to find time to shop for gifts, make that dish for your lunchtime potluck, catch the little ones in their school holiday play and, wow, the list doesn’t seem to ever end.

Life can definitely get more hectic around the holidays and that’s why we’ve dedicated the November issue of the Dress for Success Blog to help relieving some of this stress.  We’ve included tips from Carmen Rita Wong on how to balance your children’s expectations with your financial obligations, advice on how to look for work during the holidays, a review of Diane Muldrow’s “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book” and so much more!

I hope that we can help you get a handle on the holiday season and just remember—it’s almost over!

 Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

October: Treating Yourself to the Career That You Always Wanted

As children, we understood “treats” to mean a bagful of guilt-free candy, but as we got older, the word took on new meaning.  Treats became more than just a simple indulgence, but something that we earned.  They became rewards for a job well done– and what better way to reward that achievement than by treating yourself to the job that you always wanted?

Much like going door-to-door around the neighborhood in search of sugar-filled satisfaction, you must actively search out that perfect professional position for yourself.  Doors will open for you, you just need to know which ones to knock on, when to knock on them and why.  As each door opens, build on that experience to reach the next opportunity.  Finding a career that best suits you is definitely a process, but the journey is what actually makes this treat so sweet.

In this month’s edition of the Dress for Success Blog, we cover everything from defining success in your career to how to balance networking and friendship, all in an effort to help you treat yourself to the career you always wanted!

Enjoy!

 Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

September: The Rules of Going Back to School

Knowledge is power and there’s an abundance of lessons to be learned through the experiences that life throws at us.  Regardless if they’re good or bad, we always walk away knowing something about the world, or simply about ourselves, that we didn’t know previously.

And sometimes those real life lessons lead you down a path that you never expected… until you’re taking your first steps back onto that campus and entering that classroom door again.  For some, maybe only a short time has passed, but for others, it might even be decades since finding themselves in an academic setting.

Choosing to continue your education can be a hard decision to make, but the rewards can be immense, both in your professional and personal life.  So for those women who decide to give college the “’ole college try,” this month’s edition of the Dress for Success Blog is dedicated to you.

Regardless if you’re walking down the school hallway or up the steps of an office for a job interview, we hope that what you read here inspires you to continue learning– and striving to always be your best self!

Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

August: The Sky Is the Limit

Sometimes life takes you on a professional detour.  Sometimes you reach one career destination only to find out it wasn’t the right place for you.  And sometimes you just can’t seem to figure out where to go in your field.  Many women walk through the doors of Dress for Success with these same occupation obstacles and we are happy to help them navigate themselves—and you, our dear readers—to calmer seas.

The path to economic independence can have many twists and turns, but with determination to reach that destination, you can definitely make it there.  And it’s actually the journey that makes reaching this destination so rewarding.

That’s why this month the Dress for Success Blog is exploring the theme of travel.  We’ve tapped into the expertise of some of the most respected names in the travel industry to find out their secrets to success.

How did Travel + Leisure Editor-in-Chief Nancy Novogrod find job security and career contentment over her last two decades leading the magazine? Find out how the who’s who of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants achieved suite success. We even have suggestions on how to properly prepare your boss and coworkers before you leave for a vacation!

And just remember, when it comes to your financial future, the sky’s the limit.  Enjoy your journey!

Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

July: Turning Your Obstacles into Economic Independence

It can be tough to figure out what to do with your money once you’re making money—and even tougher to figure out what to do with your money when you’re not making any.  Regardless of the situation, Dress for Success knows that economic independence is definitely on your horizon, but let’s be honest, it may take some hard work.

So this month, we have dedicated the Dress for Success Blog to “Turning Your Obstacles into Economic Independence.”  We are celebrating each and every women who strives to achieve financial freedom and those who are determined to maintain it.  And for those that don’t know anything about financial freedom, we’re here to let you know all about it! So it’s no wonder why we chose the women that we did to participate in this month’s blog…

A woman who set herself apart from her high-profile family to carve out a career all her own? Liz Goldwyn did that!  What’s the best way to manage your money?  Alexa Von Tobel breaks it down in her new book What are the most important lessons to teach your child about money?  Carmen Wong Ulrich has all of the answers!

There’s only one person that determines your financial future and that’s you!  But we’re to help you along the way, so we hope that you are empowered and inspired on your path to economic independence by what you read this month on the Dress for Success Blog!

Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwid

June: Courting a New Career

Spring is a time for new beginnings, but sometimes you don’t know how to take that first step to create the change in your life that you really want.  That’s why we have dedicated the month of June on the Dress for Success Blog to “courting a new career.”  Just like dating, finding the right line of work for you involves some trial and error.  You may try something or even many things, only to find out that you’re not in the right position or even the right industry.  But there is the perfect job for you out there, you just need to be persistent, consistent and strategic.

Did you know that fashion guru June Ambrose originally worked in invest banking before switching over to the world of style?  Or that coming to a crossroads can be a good thing?  Or that there are many ways to try to get your dream company to notice you?

We tackle all of these topics on our blog this month to help prepare you for making your next move once you feel that the time is right.  Just remember: know before you go!

 Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide

May: Spring Towards a Better You

It’s May, the weather’s warming up and the sun just seems to be shining a little brighter, doesn’t it?

But with this change of seasons comes a variety of new challenges: Those nice, sunny days can cause what high school kids refer to as “senioritis”—the desire to just blow off your responsibilities for a carefree afternoon, we have to figure out where to store all of our bulky winter-wares, and let’s not forget about that seam-busting BBQ season looming just around the corner!

This month, we have tapped into some really amazing women that we think can help you get your professional—and personal—life in order as Spring comes into full bloom: we detail the journey of one of Oprah’s go-to gals, Gabrielle Bernstein, in this month’s Power Woman column; Robin Arzon gave-up her power suits for spandex and has some epic advice for her younger self; and Lisa Adams from LA Closet Design tells us what we need to know about uncluttering our closets—and our minds.

Check out all of this content—and more—as we step towards summer and our better selves!

Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide