22 March 2022

IWD Spotlight On: Lara & Suited to Success

Assisting women in Australia to become financially independent has always been at our core, so it’s no surprise we are passionate supporters of Suited to Success. The not-for-profit charitable organisation is focused on helping women in Queensland overcome barriers to employment, by empowering them with the practical tools, support, and confidence they need to find a job.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re showcasing powerful women who are breaking the bias in a meaningful way. Suited to Success CEO, Tamara Smith, is no exception. Our missions are so aligned, with a partnership focused on providing equal opportunity to women. As our Owner & Director, Lucy describes 'breaking the bias', “It means that there are no barriers to the career opportunities on offer to her and to the success she can achieve. She has choices – and she has the power to create a life by her own design.

We sat down with Tamara, and one of the clients she's supported, Lara, to hear more about their stories and the change they are striving for both personally and professionally.  

Tamara: Can you tell us a bit about your story?

Suited to Success has been supporting the community for the past 14 years. We help people in Queensland overcome barriers to employment and provide career support and styling (including clothing) services at no cost to people in need. Our mission is to inspire hope and self-belief for brighter futures. Each year, we help over 1,000 people. We have a small team, and the majority of our services are powered by volunteers here in Brisbane, we rely on the support of the community to fund over 80% of our services.

Tamara: What does ‘breaking the bias’ mean to you?

Breaking the bias is an ongoing commitment to work for a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. It’s much more than a theme or a catchphrase – it’s something we must commit to and work at every day.

As part of this work, breaking the bias also means being clear about my own immense privilege. But awareness isn’t enough, breaking the bias is about taking action. Last week I heard the very amazing Kemi Nekvapil speak, and one of the things she said was “Guilt around privilege is really boring. If you have privilege, the most powerful thing you can do is weaponise it. Use it.”

So that is my commitment this IWD and moving forward in my work and personal life. Keep learning and keep acting. I truly believe that everyone can make a difference, and we can all play a role in working towards a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

This year's theme 'Break the Bias' aligns with everything we stand for, believe in, and the very reason these organisations exist. We too envision a "world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination." Our signature styling service and suite of Career Support offerings aim to help women overcome bias and discrimination when entering or re-entering the workforce.

This month the DISSH team will be donating one additional hour of their time at work, unpaid. DISSH will then be doubling each employee's contribution and the total will be donated to Suited to success. How do contributions like this make a difference to the women STS supports?

People think philanthropists can only be people like Melinda Gates. But EVERYONE can be a philanthropist. What the DISSH team are doing, choosing to donate an hour of their time (which is then doubled by DISSH), makes them all philanthropists. With their actions they are choosing to stand with us, and with women in need.

You can never underestimate the impact of a small act of kindness. Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I think about that quote a lot, as I look around at our small, dedicated group of volunteers and supporters. STS might be a small charity, but thanks to supporters like DISSH we are making a big impact!

For every $200 we raise, another woman can access our services. Someone we recently supported shared this, "Loved my session, was very helpful. I was really nervous for the appointment. I am a single mum with two children and haven't had employment for 10 years. After my session I feel that my goals are 100% achievable...I am now ready to look for employment."

So that is how your contributions will be making a difference, it will be directly funding support services for people in need. We all know the power of women supporting women. We know how it feels when someone says ‘I believe in you’ and supports you. This is what the DISSH team is doing for STS and our clients. Thank you doesn’t seem like a big enough word!

We also got the pleasure of hearing from Lara, one of the clients Suited to Success has supported.

Lara: Can you tell us a bit about your story and the struggles you’ve faced?

I am a woman over 50, who raised my three children into healthy, happy, independent young adults. This was a worthwhile success. To help advance my academic, business or career journey, I finally went to university at age 45. Although I was a high school dropout, I earned a degree in psychology and counselling in four years. During this time of study, I was awarded for being in the Top 100 of 29,000 students.

At the same time, I was in a DV marriage that ended violently, when the house was set on fire, with me in it. It was not the children’s father, but my estranged husband. The fire happened seven days before my final exam. In it, I lost everything, and then discovered I’d been left in $280,000 of my ex-husband’s debt.

Since then, over the last five years I have struggled financially and logistically, and developed PTSD. Consequently, it’s been a difficult journey to repair, recover, and rebuild my life. I’ve had to move many times, and when the ex was released from prison, for my safety, I relocated interstate.

I’ve applied for many types of jobs and have come close to being hired. Recently, I decided it might be better for me to offer my skills and services remotely. So, I took a couple of short courses, and now I work as a freelance sales and awards copywriter, and as an academic coach for mature-age students. My studies are skilfully being applied, and in these ways, I have started to feel successful again.

Lara: What has been the greatest barrier or bias you’ve experienced?

I don’t know if, being a woman over 50, perhaps I have not been considered as valuable an employee to be hired, or as a freelancer whether or not my work qualifications are still too new or recent to be considered. Perhaps, my resume of employers has been too small for me to be hired. In any case, I am really not sure which biases are at play.

Notwithstanding, I believe in myself, and in the skills and services that I offer. So I continue to work consciously towards presenting my best self, and face, in the ways that I speak, write, listen, move, act, and dress.

Lara: How has Suited to Success (and businesses like DISSH) helped change your life by breaking that bias?

When I first found out about STS, I was astounded to discover that they help people for free! This really surprised me, because I was expecting to pay for the clothing and personal styling they gave me. After losing my belongings and having to relocate, it was exactly the help that I needed.

Honestly, without STS and their charity work I would still be struggling to put together a professional wardrobe to present my best self, to meet prospects or clients.

As to whether or not any social bias has changed for me, in the process of being hired? Possibly. When I speak to new prospects, they quickly become clients. Why? I’m guessing it’s because they’re happy to hear how my copywriting work or academic coaching will make their lives easier. I think it's also been my professional presentation, in the way that I look or dress. I’m not certain, because I haven’t asked anyone. But when clients give their online reviews about working with me, they have always been positive.

Lara: How is your life different today after coming through this experience?

In spite of the life challenges I have faced, after going to STS, the feeling of being supported and dressed by their staff and volunteers was very heart-warming.

I now feel more confident, complete, and comfortable in the stylish clothes I have to wear. Thanks to the positive and generous appointments I’ve had with STS, I’m now pleasantly in awe every time I open my wardrobe! I see the beautiful range of professional clothes, bags, jewellery, make up, and shoes for me to wear. Seeing this sight gives me faith in myself, and in others again. It's actually pretty wonderful to know that there really are people out there who do care about your personal progress and professional success.

Thanks to the team of lovely staff and kind volunteers at STS, I now feel like a woman of value again. Now that I’m dressed for success, I feel like I really am on my way again.