Australian charity Dress for Success has helped more than 27,000 women boost their confidence and find employment, but as coronavirus throws a sledgehammer into the Australian workforce, its leaders are growing worried.
Dress for Success links professional coaches and volunteers with women looking for career support and has supported 4,500 Australia women in the last year alone.
According to the Redressing the Balance report, 75 per cent of Dress for Success Sydney (DFSS) clients will find work, compared to just 48.6 per cent of women participating in the government’s JobActive Network.
Additionally, 75 per cent of DFSS clients find permanent work, compared to 41 per cent of JobActive clients.
DFSS CEO Tanya Jackson-Vaughan attributes this to the pool of volunteers who “really care about [clients’] welfare”, and its focus on working with both clients and employers to ensure candidates become job-ready.
But as the coronavirus pandemic cripples many major industries, the charity has been forced to completely overhaul its operations.
Online coaching kicks off
“We had to go from helping people face to face to going online and we did that really quickly,” Jackson-Vaughan told Yahoo Finance.
“Within a week we were providing career support services online.”
The charity was forced to stop dressing clients, due to concerns about coronavirus on fabric. Many of its volunteers are also over 60, Jackson-Vaughan added.
“But what we’ve recently done is setting out… clothes to women in prison because we can control that and just have one person there [in the office].”
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Jackson-Vaughan said the charity continues to help women in that way, and that DFSS has seen a “really good” uptake in its careers support program.
However, she added, virtual support only goes so far: women in need of mentoring and coaching also need computer access in order to access it.
And in Sydney, where many Australians have lost work, the branch was forced to pivot to online mentoring and styling from mid-March.
“There’ll be lots of people missing out.”
A survey of DFSS clients paints an even grimmer picture.
Nearly two-thirds of its clients are not in paid employment at all, while 72 per cent are facing financial difficulties due to job or income loss and 29 per cent of their clients are at risk of losing their housing due to income or job loss, and 51 per cent are finding it difficult to afford food and groceries.
“That’s really very stark,” Jackson-Vaughan said.
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One client said she had been working two part time jobs but lost one.
“The money’s only enough to cover food, rent, and groceries with little leftover for savings,” Jackson-Vaughan said.
Another client said: “I’m a survivor of family and domestic violence. My anxiety and stress levels which were under control are now stretched to the limit.”
The charity CEO said those stories show how for many women whose lives were already challenging, coronavirus has only exacerbated the problem.
“It’s just become bleaker and harder, and of course women are being more impacted by job losses under Covid-19 than men.”
The latest ABS figures released this morning showed 594,300 Australians lost their jobs in April. Of those, 325,000 are women.
Casual workers and workers in hospitality, accommodation, retail and tourism have been hardest hit - with those industries and job types occupied by more women than men.
“I am really concerned by the number of women who have lost their jobs. I really don’t know what that means for the future,” Jackson-Vaughan said.
“As a woman who has two daughters, I’m worried about what that means for gender equity going forward.”
Continuing, she said she worries about clients who face difficulty finding work in normal circumstances.
“That’s not because they’re not qualified, we have people with PhDs and Masters and a whole degree of different training and experience, but life throws you curveballs.”
But there’s hope
Jackson-Vaughan is hopeful that the rebranding of healthcare workers, teachers and supermarket workers as essential workers will trigger a reset in the way Australia values these jobs, which are predominantly carried out by women.
“We undervalue women’s work and women’s work is what’s keeping the community and society going right now.”