Put on These Shoes and Walk a Mile
I had the opportunity last night to attend and present at a session for the local chapter of Dress for Success, an international non-profit organization that provides career-development guidance and job readiness skills for disadvantaged women. In addition, the program provides appropriate interview and working attire (suits, shoes, bags) for women so that they’re ready to make positive moves towards self-sufficiency in order to support themselves and their families.
There are a total of 12 sessions in the Going Places Network including “Planning for an Organized Job Search,” “Building an Effective Network” and “Presenting Yourself – Putting your Best Face On.” Our local program is in week 5, so I was on deck with “Identifying Employment Objectives.”
We had a small group; session attendees were coming after a day spent working or volunteering (one lady came from the Salvation Army after spending the day in the near 100 degree heat of a warehouse) and needed to cross-town on the bus, which is always a chancy proposition if one intends to arrive at their destination on time (and that’s my personal editorial). Since it was a small group, no power-trippin’ powerpoints for me. Rather, we sat around a large table and talked.
We talked about what we like to do and what we’re good at doing. We did an exercise to help us identify our personal values and discussed how that ties into identifying what’s important to us in a job and in a company. We shared our likes and dislikes (yup – me too). We talked about pay and benefits, but we also talked about the pace of a workplace and whether it provides the right mix of structure or creativity. We talked about the difficulties of working mothers landing a job where they’re ‘required’ to work overtime, sometimes at the last minute, when they have children to pick up from school or day care.
We lamented the harsh (local) economic realities of making $9 or $10 per hour when one needs to pay $775 to rent a 2 bedroom apartment.
And we talked about the difficulties faced when one has medical conditions that present challenges for work success; ADHD. Depression. Positive HIV status.
I’ve worked with these women before. I’ve worked with them in other cities and other organizations. I’ve had these conversations for 25 years.
And it still makes me weep when I see how hard people try and how much they want to achieve only to face obstacles that appear insurmountable.
When the biggest ‘challenge’ in your workplace is the lack of a flexible work schedule which pisses you off because it impedes your ability to take little Susie to ballet class, I want you to think about the mom-of-3 who wanted to get home from her job at the commercial laundry in time to make dinner for her kids. But she was required to stay over (mandatory overtime) and then had to catch the late bus (with 3 transfers) which didn’t get her home until 9 PM. And she was up and back at work by 6 AM the next day. Except she was 5 minutes late – so she was issued a written warning and a ‘point’ because of the company Attendance Policy.
Kind of makes that Focus Group you chartered, which meets weekly, to devise a “healthy snacks menu” for the cafeteria seem a bit silly doesn’t it?