Helping handbags: How we're helping women back into the workforce
We've teamed up with Dress for Success to help women back in the workforce. Part of their service is the Dressing/Suiting Programme, which equips women with a complete outfit for their interview. Once permanently employed, they return for another complete outfit.
Averil shares her journey to employment with the help of Dress for Success.
When Averil Wills found herself out of work at the age of 50, she got on with looking for another job.
While it didn’t take the then-Wellington-based mother of one long to secure an interview with a bank, her problem was that she literally had nothing to wear. During the previous year she had lost 33kg – slimming down from a size 20 to a size 8. And the only clothes she had were casual, because she had been working at a daycare center.
“So suddenly I was in a situation where I needed professional clothes and I was like ‘oh my goodness, I’m out of work - what do I do?’” she says.
It was Averil’s daughter, who had used Dress for Success after completing a bartending course, who suggested that Dress for Success might be able to help.
A visit to Wellington’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau secured the referral letter from an agency that she needed, and then it was “down to the wire” with her appointment scheduled for the same day as her job interview.
“It was just incredible,” she says. “I was made to feel welcome right from the get-go. They talk to you about what sort of job you’re going for, so they can get an idea of the type of clothing you’ll need – they spend a whole hour with you – and then they bring you various pieces of clothing to try and on.
“Once I was dressed I went straight to my interview in the clothes they gave me. I had a beautiful skirt with a matching jacket, a lovely top, shoes, a brooch to wear on my lapel and a handbag to complete my look. I felt like a million dollars.”
Averil got the job – a temporary stint working in a bank in Wellington – and was then made permanent, later moving to Hastings and joining the bank’s lending operations team.
“Once you secure permanent work you’re able to go back to Dress for Success for a second fitting, so that you’ve got a few sets of clothes to work in,” Averil explains.
“And they invite you to join a professional women’s group, where you meet once a month and listen to guest speakers and have the chance to get together with others who’ve returned to the work force or changed jobs and been through the Dress for Success process.
“They’re really just about sharing our stories and nurturing and encouraging one another with that self-confidence to keep achieving.”
Through the professional women’s group, Averil was offered the opportunity to attend an annual success summit in America. There she completed a project management course and was set with the task of returning to her community, identifying a need within it and then running a project.
She ran a project with the Wellington Women’s Boarding House – an accommodation facility to help women in need get back on their feet – in which she secured funding and provided 20 women with bedding packs that they could take with them when they found somewhere to live.
“My project was in the top 10, so it was pretty awesome,” she says proudly.
Averil still wears the clothing she was given for her job interview and uses her handbag every day.
She has a special interest in social justice and is now working as a court registrar for Napier District Court; she is also a committee member for the National Council of Women.
“I’m absolutely loving it. My involvement with Dress for Success has just opened up so many doors. Gosh, I’d love to be able to set one up here in Hawkes Bay. I keep thinking about it.”
Story by Now to Love