During the midst of a pandemic, the New York Jets organization wanted to help women in need while providing an opportunity for women in the organization to connect. They contacted Dress for Success Northern NJ, a female empowerment organization that serves 10 counties, and suggested they do something other than a clothing drive.
"Through the pandemic we see how hard women are getting hit," said Jessica Mandler, the team's vice president of human resources and administration. "When I worked with them, about 15 years ago, it was more of a clothing drive, which is one of the things they do to get women dressed to get back in the workplace.
"For us, we didn't touch the dressing part, it was more the success part of how we get the women to the finish line, what can we do from home to help them. I wanted to touch on a developmental opportunity for our employees as well. Our women were at home, working remotely and the idea was how can we help in the community by empowering other women and feeling good while doing it."
Dress for Success, which was founded in 1997 and is now in 25 countries, may have gotten its start by providing professional attire for women, but its mission has morphed and expanded into one that offers complementary job search and interview-skills training for women around the world. The idea for the Jets to mentor 11 women in a virtual "meeting" sprang from the collaboration of Mandler with Jessica Ciccone (VP of content strategy and marketing), Jill Kelley (VP of legal affairs) and Jennifer Linn (VP of partner management and sponsorships). Mandler had experience with Dress for Success from her days working for the NBA, and contacted Kim Iozzi, the Dress for Success of Northern NJ executive director, seeking a role for the Jets, especially in these times of pandemic and the particular challenges women face.
"I think what was unique about this opportunity is that it allowed us to get together as females from all levels of our organization to work with each other, in small groups with clients," Ciccone said. "At the same time, we were able to give back to a community of other women."
She added: "I hope the clients walked away with a new perspective of what roles women in sports have and with advice that really helps them with their own careers."
Dress for Success has worked with more than 1,000 women since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and Iozzi said that the organization has been able to diversify and create new opportunities. Though many of the women the group works with are from low-income backgrounds, the pandemic has scrambled that. Now, there are many women older than 50 whose jobs have been downsized and must now seek employment after many years in one job; or there are people who have been out of the workforce for many years.
Jackie Lovett the Jets' coordinator, coaching operations, worked with Danielle Bonnett, a communications coordinator, consulting with a woman who was employed, but looking for a better job.
"We helped her to see things in a different light so she could present herself and see things differently," Lovett said. "I have writing experience, so I said I could help with the résumé and cover letter.
"It was a bonding experience because all of us [working for the Jets] want to make a difference. I went through a mock interview with HR and I went to talk with Coach [Adam] Gase about how he interviews and what he looks for. We all took it seriously. I wanted to do everything I could to help. It was a team effort." She added: "Sports can be such a driving force for good."
Before the coronavirus hit, a major hurdle for Dress For Success was the challenge of physically transporting interested women to the organization's offices, while they also had to deal with child care. Now, they are able to help more women, though the flip side is that there are now more women in need of help.
"The fact that an organization that is as well known as the Jets, that actually cared enough to reach out and do something like this was amazing," said Iozzi,. "It's not often we get to partner with a group like this. I don't know if we will ever be able to duplicate the impact they had. It was really a special opportunity."
She added: "The Jets made a commitment to bring women into the fold, now they're committed to helping other women. It's really special what the Jets have done for us. They came at it with the right approach. They didn't want a fluff program. They wanted to do something that was meaningful."
The collaboration with the Jets has enabled Dress for Success to offer its clients a different narrative by providing a real-world example of motivated and accomplished women working in an industry that has been predominantly male. And the Jets were not interested in doing a clothing drive -- after all Iozzi said that Dress for Success is drowning in clothing because so many people have pruned the contents of their closets during the pandemic.
"What really struck me is that they didn't want to do a suit drive, something that was easy," Iozzi said. "The Jets are committed to doing something that really is going to make a difference. Online they did breakout rooms, looked at résumés and gave candid feedback. It was great for them to get someone else's perspective. We received glowing reviews from our clients."
At a time when so many people, so many women are marooned working from home or losing jobs, millions of women have been hit the hardest.
"What a good time to help women," Mandler said. "All of the women with the Jets were so excited to help. Some were nervous, but we were able to arm them with materials and the clients were able to walk away with things they wouldn't have thought of on their own. We don't realize how much we have to give them merely in a conversation. It was a win-win all around."
Dress for Success Northern NJ - 10 Counties, serves Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, Union and Passaic counties. While it is an affiliate of the Dress for Success worldwide organization, it is an independent 501(c)(3), responsible for its own fundraising and operations, relying on corporate, foundation and individual contributions to serve its clients at no cost to them. The mission of the organization is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.