A Suitable Success
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Women’s Affinity Network helps launch a new Dress for Success affiliate for professional women in New Jersey
Volunteers Ann McNally (right) and Ilene Gershen sort clothing at the Mercer County Dress for Success in Hamilton, New Jersey.
It starts with a suit.
Yolanda Jordan (not real name) selects a conservative taupe suit for an interview to become a database coordinator at a local business.
The volunteer assisting Jordan tells her that if she gets the job, she can return for more suits and accessories to carry her through the first few weeks. But Jordan is a nervous wreck. She’s never worked before. How would she learn the new bus route? Would her coworkers talk to her? What happens at lunch?
As the hour went on, and the two women compared pictures of their children, the trust between them deepened. Jordan told the volunteer that her mother had never held a job; nor had either of her two sisters. She was the first in her family to attempt to break the cycle of poverty.
Jordan had completed a county-sponsored job training program and scored highest in her class on the data entry training program. With a strong recommendation from her instructor, Jordan got her first-ever job interview.
Jordan is one of many women who have walked through the doors of the recently-opened Dress for Success boutique in Hamilton, New Jersey. While Jordan got the suit she needed for her first job interview, it was only the beginning.
“It’s not about the suit,” says Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Ellen Hackman, associate director for Global Information Technology Sourcing. “It’s a whole transformation.”
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Women’s Affinity Network is helping economically disadvantaged women prepare to succeed in the job market—which may in turn help them succeed in life. Employees donated more than 500 interview-appropriate business suits and other clothing as well as shoes and accessories to help jump start the clothing boutique. The foundation was laid by a $50,000 grant from the company, thanks to the network’s efforts.
Hackman, a member of the network, echoes the sentiments of Dress for Success Worldwide CEO Joi Gordon, who attended the Mercer County affiliate’s official opening in November.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Hackman says. “We’ve suited more than two dozen women in just three short weeks and several have returned when they got the jobs they wanted.”
Dress for Success is a national organization, serving women who are living under the poverty level. The majority are single mothers ages 18 to 38 raising an average of two to three children. Women are referred to Dress for Success by nonprofit organizations, such as domestic violence agencies, homeless shelters and job-training programs.
The Mercer County Dress for Success boutique is open to all referring agencies in the county. The organization has an impressive 16-member diverse board of professionals from across the U.S.
“Our development committee is seeking funding and sponsorship from a range of sources,” Hackman adds. “We find that young women professionals are taking up our cause in their offices with money and suit drives. But much of what we’ve accomplished so far has been through corporate and community donations—from the renovation of our Mercer County office to the clothing and accessories.”
Linda Meister, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s compliance specialist, Compliance Ethics, served as leader of the suit drive.
“The company and our colleagues have been so supportive of our effort,” Meister says. “The initial clothing drive helped us stock the shelves of our new boutique. We are now working in the boutique as volunteers, doing whatever is needed to keep our operation going at minimal cost.”
The Women’s Affinity Network wanted to get involved with Dress for Success as early as 2005, but couldn’t find a chapter between northern New Jersey and Baltimore. A planning committee was formed to see if Bristol-Myers Squibb could help launch a new affiliate; the company could and did.
Caroline Yarbrough, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s director of global marketing, oncology, says: “What we’ve been able to accomplish with the help of so many people is a new model for Dress for Success. A group of women established a new affiliate that received its seed funding and volunteer capital largely from one corporation. We are grateful to the company for helping to make it possible. We hope to provide a successful example of harnessing the talents of professionals both within BMS and the surrounding community to provide the clothing and mentoring needed by so many women in Mercer County.”
Hackman, Meister and Yarbrough are part of the core team for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Women’s Affinity Network’s Dress for Success initiative. Other members include Ivelisse Clausell, associate legal counsel, and Ann McNally, the former director of facilities contract services.
“To be at this point is so exciting and tremendously rewarding,” McNally says. “It’s been two years in the making. And I can’t stress enough how it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of so many people behind the scenes.”
Dress for Success has suited more than 350,000 women for their job interviews since the international organization was founded in 1997. The organization provides up to one week’s worth of business appropriate separates if the participant gets the job. It also offers networking opportunities and career development tools to help women gain economic independence.
To volunteer to help Dress for Success in your community, visit the organization’s website at www.dressforsuccess.org and select your affiliate in the drop down menu on the right hand side of the site.