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Dressed for Success: The Joi Gordon Story

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A prosecutor turned executive of one the most influential nonprofits, Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide, is empowering women across the globe.

By Lauren Jones, Photos courtesy of Dress for Success and Jasmine Alston

Joi Gordon’s mission in life is to serve the community, help others and make a difference. Gordon, the spirited leader of Dress for Success Worldwide, is truly joyful, her voice ringing clear with passion as she speaks about her organization’s mission.

Volunteering was always a part of her story. In high school, Gordon spent her time working with underprivileged populations and those with mental and physical disabilities. She later became a lawyer, specifically the assistant district attorney in the Bronx, N.Y. office, but quickly realized the legacy she wanted to leave was that of helping people, not incarcerating them. She became involved with Dress for Success when she donated a suit, a simple act that foreshadowed her impressive career in the nonprofit sector. Not long after, she left the world of law to run the New York office of Dress for Success. Located in a shabby building, her new office wasn’t impressive, she says, but 17 years later, she’s never looked back.

“It has really helped me evolve as a woman, as a leader and as a mom,” Gordon says of her years with Dress for Success.

Dress for Success is an international nonprofit with the goal of empowering women by providing a network of support, professional clothing and career advice. Today, the organization has become a haven for women looking to get back on their feet and sustain economic independence in 160 cities and 27 countries. In its 20 years, Dress for Success has made, and continues to make, an invaluable impact in the communities it serves.

Joi Gordon in 1999

The organization offers “a plethora of services for professional development to move the needle on women’s careers and lives. We offer workshops, seminars, health-and-wellness classes and preach civic engagement. It’s a holistic approach,” Gordon says.

Dress for Success doesn’t stop there, aiming to make these programs raise each woman’s confidence and self-worth as well.

“Right now, women are at the forefront of the conversation, and we want to be sure that women are given the same opportunities men have, Gordon says. “If a woman wants to work, she should be able to work and have the tools she needs to succeed.”

That is the underlying message behind everything at Dress for Success. It’s all about women helping women in rural communities, sprawling cities and sleepy suburbs. Wherever there are people who will champion the cause, Dress for Success will be there.

In the next decade, Gordon estimates the nonprofit will experience major international growth and she plans to use technology to its advantage, planning to create a mobile app and mobile career centers so women who live outside of those 160 cities have access to Dress for Success’ services.

After years with the organization, Gordon still starts each day full of hope and is constantly reminded of the power of the organization.

“I love the women’s resilience,” she says. “There are so many who have overcome horrific situations and hurdle after hurdle, yet they still see the rainbow at the end of the tunnel. They fight for the ability to succeed.”

When asked about any particular success stories that have stuck with her, Gordon recalls an especially touching story.

“I remember one woman who overcame so much,” she says. “Now her daughter is entering her freshman year at Yale. That woman’s success is now her daughter’s success and she has worked really hard to give her daughter that chance.”

There are likely hundreds, even thousands of stories like this one that are a testament to the breadth and depth of Dress for Success’ ability to transform women’s lives, and in doing so, transform communities.

Joi Gordon’s Career Tips
  1. “Build a network early on. Your network starts now. It’s all about who you know, as opposed to what you know.”
  2. “Join networks, associations or clubs to help build your network where you can find people with similar passions. This will further help you open doors.”
  3. “When you help others, you help yourself. By serving the community, you may be able to tap into talents you aren’t using in your day job that could catapult your next opportunity.”
  4. “It’s all about how you show up to work. Step into opportunities that stretch yourself. Make yourself relevant, important and noticeable.”
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