by kayla weinkauf | photos provided by dress for success permian basin
Landing a job can be a daunting task. It takes time to research jobs and attend interviews.
Purchasing professional work attire can be expensive and stressful. But there’s another job landing requirement that’s as essential as time and money: confidence. Some people are seemingly born with confidence and courage that oozes from their every pore, while others need more time to develop confidence. Emily Weinberg is passionate about helping women develop the confidence they need to succeed.
Confidence is the key to walking into a new work environment, feeling calm, capable, and succeeding because of it. Confidence doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfectly tailored suit. Sometimes, the right pair of shoes can give you that extra boost. -Emily
“I felt this call to serve and give back to my community. I was at a workshop and this quote from it stuck with me: ‘How can I be useful to others so that I can in turn empower myself?’” Weinberg said. That quote inspired her to open a location of Dress for Success in the Permian Basin. Each Dress for Success location is an affiliate of the worldwide organization and operates as an independent non-profit with its own policies, staff, and board of directors. Affiliates provide services to their communities based on local needs, cultural traditions, and resources.
Emily shared how her first work experiences as a teenager helped her see the importance of having a job and making connections. “I was raised in a small New Jersey suburb of New York City. It was similar to small towns here in Texas,” she recalled. With one major difference, Weinberg’s proximity to New York City, which gave her access to museums, theatre, diversity, and her first taste of independence. “My best friend and I would take the train and go into the East Village. We loved having the freedom to explore the big city by ourselves.”
“I want the community to know it’s about more than just clothing. It’s about setting up environments that provide resources and tools that can help women succeed in all areas of life.” Emily
However, when she returned to her small hometown—she was quiet and shy, until her first job gave her the courage to begin making connections with others. “My first job was at a bakery. We wore little white dresses that ended up completely chocolate stained by the end of each shift,” Weinberg laughed. “I was pretty introverted. Working at the bakery forced me to be less shy. I discovered I enjoyed serving customers and meeting new people. I worked with two outspoken girls in my class and we’d laugh and tease each other a lot. I enjoyed that workplace banter. My second job was at our local grocery store. I set goals to be the fastest, most efficient checker. It was within walking distance—and there was a freedom that came with having a job and feeling independent.”
Later in her career, Emily got a glimpse of the hardship’s women faced on their journey to land the right job—some of them as simple as weather and unreliable transportation. “I remember the first time I had to wear a suit to a job interview. It happened to be an unseasonably hot September in New York. I had to take the bus and I was wearing a wool suit. The bus was running behind; I was sweating. By the time I got to the interview I was so uncomfortable that it didn’t go very well. I knew I wasn’t presenting my best self that day.”
As the Executive Director for Dress for Success Permian Basin, Weinberg knows how crucial it is to present your best self to a potential employer. “Our mission is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and the development tools to help women thrive in work and life. I want the community to know it’s about more than just clothing. It’s about setting up environments that provide resources and tools that can help women succeed in all areas of life.”
A life-changing experience volunteering at a Dress for Success location sparked Weinberg’s passion for helping women put their best foot forward. “I began volunteering in Rhode Island in 2002. I could see that providing clothing and job-seeking tools was so helpful to these women,” she remembered. “The job market was changing then—you had to be ready to interview and start work immediately. Not knowing where to look for jobs or not being able to afford to buy clothing was overwhelming for some of those women. I’ve wanted to assist women who need a little extra help ever since that experience.”
Weinberg applied for the Permian Basin affiliate in August 2017. After it was approved in January 2018, she worked part-time on the development of the project until May. Then in June, she began working with volunteers and collecting clothing donations. In July 2018, Dress for Success Permian Basin served their first client.
Dress for Success has a board of directors and volunteers, but Weinberg is currently a staff of one. She’s in charge of everything from fundraising and grant writing to training volunteers and serving clients. “It’s been super exciting meeting so many new people. I have to be courageous and put myself out there and make connections with clients, donors, partner agencies, and volunteers. The Permian Basin community is embracing and welcoming. It seems like there’s always a buzz and excitement about new projects. It’s been wonderful seeing people’s generosity and willingness to help.”
She admitted that fundraising can be a challenging aspect of her work. But the challenge is greatly outweighed by the reward: seeing a client gain confidence. “A client came in the other day that had a job training in three hours. She said she had no idea what professional clothing was. We dressed her in a suit—and you could tell she was stiff and not feeling good about herself. Then we put her in a pair of nice black leggings, a blouse, and a jacket. Her body language completely changed. She checked herself out in the mirror and said, ‘Now I know what my style is.’ I love moments like that—when you know intuitively what works for you and makes you feel good.”
Luisa De La Pena-
Women re-entering the workforce or those who have scheduled job interviews can come in for one full outfit, including shoes and accessories. If they get the job, they can return for a week’s worth of attire. - Emily
Confidence is the key to walking into a new work environment, feeling calm, capable, and succeeding because of it. Confidence doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfectly tailored suit. Sometimes, the right pair of shoes can give you that extra boost. Weinberg recalled, “Years ago I was walking in downtown Austin in these shoes that I absolutely loved. I got a compliment from a taxi driver that shouted, ‘You go girl. Love your shoes!’ I received several other compliments throughout the day and it just infused me with confidence I could spread to other people. That’s the kind of feeling we want to offer our clients.”
Dress for Success Permian Basin is currently focusing on their suiting program, where women are referred by other non-profits, government agencies, and churches. Women re-entering the workforce or those who have scheduled job interviews can come in for one full outfit, including shoes and accessories. If they get the job, they can return for a week’s worth of attire.
Standing out from the crowd can be difficult in today’s competitive job market. Weinberg knows that the right clothes contribute to confidence, but success and self-sufficiency require specific skills, too. She plans to eventually expand the program to include a career center that provides a space for clients to receive training on resume writing and interview skills, with monthly speakers and networking sessions. “If you’re not currently in your dream job, ask yourself, ‘What can I learn while I’m still here and how can I make a difference today?’”
Weinberg believes asking these questions can improve your workday and change the trajectory of your career path. “Never stop educating yourself. Think about what you want to be doing in the future. Say yes to things that frighten you—but could also help advance your career. Sometimes I’d almost talk myself out of doing things like public speaking, but then I’d do some research and feel more confident.”
After our chat, I had a clear idea of what success looks like for Dress for Success Permian Basin: continued growth of resources and ways to better serve clients. But I wanted to know more about Weinberg’s personal definition of success. “It can be summed in four simple things: being comfortable and confident in the world, connecting truthfully with others, being present when in conversation, and making small changes that could possibly have a larger impact.”
That’s a success model we should all strive to follow. †