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Pandemic 'She-session' Not The 'Full Image' Of What Women Are Facing, Organization Says

Since May, more than 200 women received employment clothing kits through the Dress for Success curbside pickup option.
Dress For Success Cincinnati
Since May, more than 200 women received employment clothing kits through the Dress for Success curbside pickup option.

More than half a million more women than men have left the workforce since last year throughout the country. A Cincinnati organization is one of many preparing for a surge of women seeking employment help in the coming months.

"There is a huge disproportionate impact in what's being called a 'she-session' right now," said Executive Director of  Lisa Nolan. "When I'm asked what we're seeing at Dress for Success, I have to give the caveat that it makes me nervous because we're not having that regular face-to-face contact with women. I'm not sure we have the full image of what women are really facing and how they're really doing."

According to national data, nearly 2.4 million women left the workforce since last year, in contrast to 1.8 million men.

Dress for Success provides employment services and professional clothing to people reentering the workforce. But, like many other organizations, it's had to pivot because of the pandemic.

Nolan says career services, like resume writing, moved to online only. And the in-person clothing help they provide had to move to curbside service only.

"So we have a phone appointment, where we speak to each woman about what industry she's going into, what she estimates her size to be, what her style preferences are. And then we curate a style kit for her with either the interview or first week of employment attire that she needs," Nolan said. 

Since May, more than 200 women received employment clothing kits through curbside pickup, but Nolan worries about the women they haven't heard from. She knows some of the changes, like moving job training online, can be a barrier for people.

"Some of our older clients are not well equipped to be searching for jobs in the current market, particularly, they're not accustomed to using computers at all," she said. "And so when interviews are happening via Zoom, this is something brand new for them."

Pre-pandemic, Nolan says Dress for Success was helping 700-900 people annually. But they're expecting those numbers to spike in the coming months, which is what happened after the 2008 recession.

"At the height, back in 2009, 2010, we saw 1,800 women annually," she said.

The organization is also facing additional challenges because it's having to move into a new facility with three years left in their lease. Their current location in downtown Cincinnati is being converted into residential units. So it's moving to 4623 Wesley Avenue in Norwood.

"It will be a major relocation with, you know, we'll have to hire a moving company to support that in terms of the clothing. Because we're fortunate to be in a position where we don't purchase the clothing, the vast majority of it is donated, we are planning to reduce most of our inventory before we move, and then rebuild it back up with donations at the new location," she said.

In 22 years, Dress for Success never had a fundraiser until news of the forced move broke. They set out to raise $1.2 million to fund the relocation and are at about $240,000 away from that goal. Despite the change, she says they're hoping the move will be a good thing with free parking for customers and clients.

The organization hopes to reopen in person for the first time in nearly a year at their new facility in June.

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