The non-profit organization Dress for Success has a long-held mantra: first impressions matter. That’s why it has dedicated ample time and resources to making sure women, no matter how disadvantaged, look and sound the part when they go in for job interviews.
But, times have changed. Often, the first meeting doesn’t come when in applicant walks into an interview room. It happens over the phone or on Skype. For Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon, this change in hiring tactics has provided both a problem and an opportunity.
“We’ve already addressed the clothing aspects of how they look and how they feel and giving her the self-confidence and self-worth of walking into the interview,” Gordon tells TIME. “But if she doesn’t get to walk into the interview because her phone technique is poor and she doesn’t get the interview then we need to address that first.”
So, that’s what they’re going to do. In early April, Dress for Success launched “Success is Calling” a partnership with the wireless provider Tracfone that will provide women in 15 cities with phone-interview training and helpful tips. As a part of the program participants will also receive a complementary phone with a year’s worth of minutes. Gordon says the phone is a key piece: the women who use Dress for Success tend to be single moms, often coming from abusive or rocky relationships.
“She needs to be connected to her children and she needs to be connected to her employer,” Gordon says. “Tracfone is going to allow her to do just that.”
Though the program launches officially on June 1, the campaign already has the backing of one highly successful woman—Vanessa Williams.
Williams, who has worked with Dress for Success for over a decade, says though she’s lucky to have had parents who encouraged her to be successful, she feels it is important to help women who weren’t so lucky to get a fair shot.
“This is an opportunity for women who don’t have that background to have a better chance to be employed and feel better about themselves,” Williams tells TIME. “It will take much more time, attention and resolve to truly level the playing field in the workplace for women and men alike.”