Helping Women Live Their Best Lives
Sandra Gaddy, chief executive officer of Women’s Resource Center, joins us on this week’s podcast to share how their organization is helping equip women for workplace success.
0:00:06.5 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home. Welcome in. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we have it all. And we also love to bring you the stories of success, community partnerships and growth. Today, joining us is Sandra Gaddy. She is the CEO of Women’s Resource Center, a fabulous organization here in West Michigan, one that truly has opened up new doors, haven’t you?
0:00:31.8 Sandra Gaddy: We have. We officially open our doors in June of this summer, and we are so excited to be here to be able to serve the needs of the women in the greater 49507 area code here, but really in the greater Grand Rapids area.
0:00:47.9 LJJ: So, tell me, you have been in business though for many years, not just since June.
0:00:52.2 SG: Not since June. In fact, this year is our 50th anniversary. The official day falls on November 15th, and so we have some celebrations planned for that day. But yes, we’ve been impacting the lives of women for the last 50 years, and we’re really grateful to our founders who were some bold women with a big goal to really support the workforce development needs of women in our community. And it’s exciting work.
0:01:21.3 LJJ: You know, when you talk about workforce development needs, it’s everything from thinking about if you are single and you’re looking for a new career start-up and don’t even know where to turn to the whole component of what do I wear, how do I look, how do I get my resume in order?
0:01:38.8 SG: Yeah, and you talked about, what do I wear? And that’s … our Business Boutique is usually the last step of the journey for women when they come to us. But when we look at the workforce development needs for women, we’re talking about through our interview workshops, their technical skills. The resume is critically important. And for many employers, still a cover letter or that letter of interest shows that impact. But really helping them gain a foot into the door for some of the companies is really important to our work. But an aspect that a lot of people is not aware of is that we also work with women who are under-employed and women who are working their butts off but are not getting the pay necessary, needed for it. And we still have a level of advocacy for pay in the workplace, so that’s really important, but that underemployed woman is really important to our work.
0:02:32.3 LJJ: Do you find it incredible we are still talking about pay equity?
0:02:37.1 SG: I do. I often say that it is our goal to be out of business, but until we have fairness in the workplace, we’ll continue to do our work here at Women’s Resource Center, and we’ll continue to advocate for fairness in the workplace for women.
0:02:57.0 LJJ: Tell us a little bit about how much change there has been just in the environment of getting a job. Everything now seems so technical. And I know that there are many companies that do video screenings at first, and some people aren’t comfortable in front of a camera sometimes. Has that really been an eye-opener for the women who walk in the door?
0:03:21.4 SG: It has been. And COVID really pushed us to get out of our comfort zone, I would say, for many people who were really dragging their feet with this. But what we are finding is that there are several employers that we had somewhat a participant here that never had an in-person interview. All of her interviews were virtual. And so that’s incredibly important that as we’re working with women for interview prep that we’re not just doing mock interviews in person, but we’re also giving them the virtual experience. The other tools that we have in our wheelhouse is that we have a learning management system, LMS. And so we were working on this pre-pandemic, so this was a part of our strategic plan. And just shared with our entire team how important having that element of hybrid work, that understanding of virtual support to our programming is really, really critical to the success for our participants. So not only are women able to come into Women’s Resource Center and gain the skills that they need, but they can also learn from at home, or learn from their work, or learn from their car through our learning management system.
0:04:34.8 LJJ: So is learning management system similar like to training and education that you might have once you’re already in a corporation? It’s really helping people on the go as they are moving the next step up.
0:04:47.9 SG: Absolutely. From customer service, quick tips on that … I do a quick learning tool on customer service, because I’m very passionate about that. That’s my former banking days. And we also have our interviews, workshops and some basics to resume writing, so we get more into the meat when they’re in here, but we really have an opportunity for women to learn on the go and learn while they’re caring for their family at home and making things a lot more convenient for them.
0:05:20.1 LJJ: I can tell you that confidence-building is really also what you’re known for, and that comes hand-in-hand with learning.
0:05:29.0 SG: Yes. When women come to the door, I often see so often that women come distressed, especially if they just experienced losing a job or being downsized. And that could be pretty traumatic, especially depending on what family situations you may have, if you’re living in a situation where you’re paycheck to paycheck. But I always say our coaches here and our volunteer mentors, they help women get that out and feel secure and safe that they can cry it out if they need to, but then we’re going to dust it off, and then we’re going to go to work. And once we go to work, you can rest assured that you’re not only going to get the tools that you need for the workforce, but you’re going to also leave with confidence to even maybe go for a promotion that you didn’t think that was available to you, just because you’re going to just feel that confident and that boldness to go after it.
0:06:23.1 LJJ: So you just finished this capital campaign, very successful, a building that makes people when they walk in the door just immediately feel that confidence, the oozing of success. Tell us how you got there. Tell us about the community support.
0:06:38.5 SG: Oh, man. My cheeks can’t handle it when I talk about the community support, because the community that rallied around us, Consumers Credit Union rallied around us, and so many incredible partners. We’re sitting in one of the rooms, the Eileen Devries Family Foundation, this is the business center. And just so many rooms and spaces like that throughout this entire building. The support was incredible. And they believed in our work, the impact that it has on the number of women that we serve on an annual basis and throughout our history, but they also saw the vision of being able to support more women and support women who have been historically underrepresented. And there had been a number of black and brown women in this area who it just took them a long time, like hours to get to our former building just by the bus.
0:07:35.2 LJJ: Wow.
0:07:36.4 SG: And I know our city is working on increasing our transportation for our citizens, but we wanted to have an impact where when a woman comes here, when she gets off the bus, if that’s her form of transportation, she’s off at the front of our door. And it’s such a welcoming space, it’s a beautiful space and it’s a space that a woman walks into. And I just can’t even express the words that have come out of the mouths of women, and they just, I’m in awe that this space is for them. And so it’s bright, and they deserve this space, and they deserve to walk in a space that exudes confidence and beauty, and let them walk out feeling like they can tackle the world. And we wouldn’t be able to have this space without our donors.
0:08:25.0 LJJ: So tell us about a change that you have seen, if you could give us an example. I met so many people at the open house. But truly, when you talk about transforming a life, it has such a ripple effect into the community.
0:08:41.9 SG: Well, there are so many impacts that we can share. We serve women from all walks of life. And when I think about some of the participants that … Oh, man. We were just in a team meeting sharing just a couple of stories there. But I think about this one participant. She came out of our New Beginnings program, and she struggled with addiction prior, but now she’s beat her addiction, and now she’s working toward her addiction counseling so that she can help support other women. We have a tool that we call The Bridge, and that Bridge helped women set goals just walking across that Bridge. And one of the things she was wanted permanent housing. She got that. She wanted a permanent job. She got that walking alongside her coach. She said, “Okay, I need a vehicle”, because she wanted to get her children back. She got her vehicle.
0:09:41.0 LJJ: Wow.
0:09:41.0 SG: Purchased her first car, got her children back, got a new job. We’re very firm with companies. We won’t recommend our participants if we feel that they’re being underpaid, and if it’s not a fair wage. And so we say, “You gotta come back to us better than where you’re coming, because we can’t recommend that they can’t live.” And so she’s tackled all these goals on The Bridge. And each step of the way, she receives incentives. She gets to go into our incentive closet. But more than that, it’s just an inward confidence. And our coaches and our mentors, we’re able to come around and celebrate.
0:10:23.5 LJJ: You know, that visual of The Bridge is extremely strong.
0:10:31.0 SG: Yeah.
0:10:31.6 LJJ: And I like the fact that you say you walk alongside.
0:10:33.8 SG: Yeah, yeah. Because we can’t do the work for them. They have to do the work. But we are going to be some of their greatest supporters.
0:10:42.6 LJJ: Sandra, you mentioned the Business Boutique is really the last step toward success out the door. Explain to what this is.
0:10:49.8 SG: Our Business Boutique is really a boutique where women come and get free clothing, free shoes, free purses, everything that makes the outfit and helps that woman feel confident. Once they have that internal confident, they are able to pull the whole look together from inside out. And when women come into the boutique, it’s a shopping experience, but that’s free. Community donors across our community give … they give us of their best. And when they come in and women are shocked by the level of clothing that they’re able to pick for. So if I’m a shopper who’s helping you with your shopping experience, a volunteer, you’ll have an hour to an hour and a half experience, music playing in the background. We have two beautiful dressing rooms; one is universally accessible. And from, like I said, from your clothing, to your shoes, to the jewelry, to the makeup. And I say women need support everywhere, and we also provide brand new bras. [chuckle]
0:11:52.1 LJJ: That’s amazing.
0:11:54.4 SG: So it’s just really helping that woman on that last step walk out the door confident.
0:12:00.4 LJJ: Well, thank you so much for all of the information. How can people get in touch? I know that you still … You love volunteers, you can also donate business clothing.
0:12:08.7 SG: Yes. So you can contact us at grwrc.org.
0:12:15.0 LJJ: Grwrc.org.
0:12:18.6 SG: Yes. And/or give us a call here at 616-458-5443. And I always say that if you find a woman that is in need, whether she’s at your church or at your current employer, if she’s in an entry-level job and she’s looking to improve her skills, share the Women’s Resource Center so that we can help support her. And you can also give to our Business Boutique by calling that number as well.
0:12:42.5 LJJ: Sandra, thank you so much.
0:12:45.2 SG: Thank you, Lynne.
0:12:45.9 LJJ: Thank you for listening in. I’ll tell you what, we have such great community partners here in the West Michigan area. Consumers Credit Union is so proud to partner with the Women’s Resource Center, not only in just making sure that this building came to be, but also just in making sure that there’s volunteer commitment as well. So if you out there, you know someone, or you’d like to volunteer, please do us a favor, head to the website, we’ll put it on ours as well. Hey, I’d like to thank Jake Esselink for his production skills today. And I hope everybody has a very safe and fun week. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson. Money, I’m Home.