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Like most professional women, Zoe Sheppard, a counselor with PHOENIX House Foundation, a national drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, has a treasure trove of work — life anecdotes about navigating her career path. Yet, unlike many of her contemporaries, Sheppard’s journey has been anything but a typical trip up the corporate ladder. She recalls picking out her first interview suit: a classic green two — piece — the same color as the prison uniform she’d been wearing for months prior to that day. She selected the Jones New York suit not from a boutique but at Dress for Success Worldwide (DFS), an international organization that provides professional attire and support services for women re — entering the workforce.
Like many DFS clients, prior to enrolling in the program, Sheppard experienced an overwhelming chain of traumatic life events that included childhood sexual abuse, drug use, and ultimately serving a three — to six — year prison sentence. Yet she was able to not only obtain employment after prison but regain her dignity and become a source of inspiration for others. Sheppard credits much of her success to the empowering influence of CEO Joi Gordon and the DFS organization, which has helped more than 350,000 women around the globe get on the road to self — sufficiency.
According to Gordon, Sheppard represents the type of results she envisioned when she took over the leadership role of shaping DFS from a charity that primarily helped low — income women acquire suits for job interviews into an international network of full — service centers offering career development and professional mentorship. This past August, one of DFS’ career developmental partners, Franklin Covey, a provider of executive training courses and organizational products, contributed 500 complimentary seats to its Franklin Covey FOCUS: Achieving Your Highest Priorities one — day workshop (valued at $125,000), to members of DFS’ Professional Women’s Group, a program aimed at increasing job retention by providing participants with ongoing support.
Robert Half International serves as DFS’ exclusive staffing sponsor, providing program members with career — skills evaluations, access to online training, job search, and career development tools.
“We just could not be a closet organization,” Gordon says. “My goal is to not only put a suit on a woman. I want that woman to know that she has the potential for greatness, that she can take control of her life by taking classes, workshops, and developing other skills. That is the business model for DFS.”
The DFS model helped Sheppard land two subsequent jobs and become a part of the Professional Women’s Group.
Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, DFS Worldwide board chair, sees Gordon’s ability to manage people as a key to her success. “Many of the people running the affiliate sites are volunteers,” she offers. “Joi has managed to help the affiliates find volunteers who believe in the mission. She is one of the finest organizational leaders that I have ever seen. Her people would follow her into Hades [because] she makes them feel valued and important and gives them the support that they need.”
But Gordon’s professional success extends beyond how