Amy Robichaud is an advocate and speaker, and the new executive director of Dress For Success Vancouver, a non-profit organization dedicated to economically empowering women by providing career resources, professional attire, and training in areas such as leadership and interview skills. Dress For Success Vancouver is part of the mobilization for the upcoming Women Deliver conference, which will take place in Vancouver from June 3 - 6, 2019. In the following interview she discusses how Dress For Success contributes to anti-poverty work, the "invisible power" one can draw from a favourite outfit, and more.
This interview was conducted over email.
ROOM: Tell me a little about your work at Dress For Success Vancouver.
AR: I joined Dress for Success Vancouver as the Executive Director in April 2019. Prior to that I’ve always been an entrepreneurial and impact-driven person. I have a decade of experience helping non-profit and charitable organizations across North America advance their ideas, revenue, and diversity goals through policy and practice. I am the former Director of Partnership & Engagement for Minerva BC, the co-founder of FundHer.ca, and a speaker on mental health, intergeneration leadership, implicit bias, women in politics, leadership, and civic engagement. I am extremely passionate about women’s rights. My husband, Glen and I have lived all over Canada but now happily call Vancouver home along with our pets, and overgrown library.
Our vision, at Dress for Success Vancouver, is a world were women have the independence to strengthen their families and shape their communities and we know that women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to strong economies.
Just look at the numbers: DFSV has served over 35,000 women in the Lower Mainland in the last twenty years. Based on the median income for women from the 2016 City of Vancouver Census data, that is a potential economic engine of approximately $1 billion dollars.
And the numbers clearly demonstrate how mission-critical DFSV career and leadership training services are, because women in Vancouver still earn less than men: to the tune of $7,000 a year—or if you look at it over the last twenty years—that is close to a quarter billion dollars of economic activity lost to gender inequality in the workforce.
Our work over the next twenty years—to create full economic inclusion for all women in the Lower Mainland will be powered by our donors, corporate partners, and thousands of volunteers.
In turn, this work of empowering women, will power our economy and our communities through unprecedented economic and social changes. Because economically empowered women are fundamental to lasting, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, human security, and to the achievement of gender equality.
ROOM: Why do you think access to "professional" clothing or business attire is so important to women's empowerment?
AR: DFSV opened its doors twenty years ago, as the first international affiliate of Dress for Success Worldwide, to empower women into the workforce by helping them make that all-important great first impression with professional attire and confidence boost. We all know the invisible power that we draw from our own “power suit” or favourite outfit—it isn’t necessarily about how it makes us look, but about how it makes us feel.
Today, we DFSV still believes in the vital importance of first impressions, but we also know that to truly empower women economically and support them as they harness their highest potential we need to invest in a continuum of training, mentorship, and access to networks and support.
That is why DFSV provides a full schedule of career programs and leadership training through Employment Retention programs and our Career Centre, which has grown by 80% since 2015.
It is this complete ensemble of career and leadership training, through leadership and advocacy, and interview coaching and suiting services that address the lived reality of women who are striving to entre and advance in the workforce while also addressing the systemic constraints to women’s economic empowerment.
ROOM: Who can access your services?
AR: All self-identifying womxn are welcome to access our services. We work with over sixty referral employment agencies and clients can self-refer as well. Working Gear is our sibling organization, and provides similar services for self-identifying men.
ROOM: How can people get involved with Dress For Success Vancouver, or help support your work?
AR: The secret to our impact is the engagement of the community. We’re a charitable organization that is staff lead and volunteer powered. We invite everyone, individually or as part of their organization to join us as a champion of women’s economic empowerment. You can donate funds and/or professional attire, run a suit or purse drive with your network, or volunteer with us in our Career Centre and Boutique. Drop us a note at vancouver@dressforsuccess.
ROOM: Why did you decide to join the Women Deliver Mobilization?
AR: As a citizen of Vancouver and leader in our local women’s empowerment and equality sector, it is important for me to be part of a national campaign where I can help facilitate the knowledge transfer between organizations that are working to improve gender equality across Canada and different sectors. Inclusion is both a core value and lived practice in my life and I fundamentally believe that we are better when everyone, all voices and perspectives are mobilized for action and necessary, positive change.
ROOM: What change(s) to current anti-poverty policy do you hope to see proposed by political leaders in the upcoming federal election?
AR: As we head into an era where our workforce and economy is changing and evolving at an exponential rate due to technological and social forces, I firmly believe that Canada’s and British Columbia’s competitive advantage will be our people—the diversity of skilled and adaptive individuals who make up our workforce. But, for us to realize this diversity dividend we need everyone included equally in the workforce and we need policies that encourage healthy, productive, and equal participation. This could look like national, public mental healthcare, facilitated and portable benefits packages, public and/or subsidized child care, better enablers around the recognition of foreign credentials, and continued meaningful reconciliation—and economic reconciliation—with Indigenous people in Canada.
ROOM: What do you wish more people knew about inequality and poverty in Vancouver?
AR: I support a more thorough application of a gender lens on poverty and inequality in Vancouver. Our extremely tight housing market has a disproportionally significant impact on women and women’s safety. When it comes to the economic ecosystem in Vancouver it is important to be clear about what is a living wage in our community and how we intend to create jobs and opportunities for all to access that through employment.
Dress for Success Vancouver is about more than clothing. Our clients come to us ready to work, but are facing diverse and multiple barriers that are getting in the way of their personal and professional success. The only difference between our clients and me, for example, is that I was able to grasp onto the opportunities that came across my path; I was positioned so that my hard work and effort was met with opportunity. All we aim to do for our clients is to provide them with the tools they need to grab the opportunities in their path—their hard work will do the rest.
ROOM: Final question! What are you most excited about for the upcoming Women Deliver conference?
AR: Women Deliver is a chance for the world to come to Vancouver and for us to learn from and teach the world. I’m most looking forward to connecting with delegates from around the world, including and especially my fellow mobilizers.
Learn more about Dress For Success Vancouver at https://vancouver.dressforsuccess.org/.
Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada is a national movement to improve Canadian leadership on gender equality and drive progress for health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls domestically and globally. It is an inclusive movement which welcomes any organization to join as we all have a role to play in moving the needle on gender equality! To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.
Meghan Bell is the publisher of Room Magazine.