The pandemic has managed to affect almost every aspect of our lives for over a year now.
One demographic that has been significantly impacted has been women in the workforce. According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, women currently make up the majority of unemployment claims at 54%.
For over 20 years, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts has been empowering women to achieve economic independence by providing them with the tools they need to thrive in the workplace.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Margaret Tantillo, Executive Director at Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, and Kassandra Carrasquillo, a participant in their Professional Women’s Group, about why women specifically are being impacted, and what the organization is doing to support them during this time.
Read the transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The pandemic has managed to affect almost every aspect of our lives for over a year now, and one demographic that has been significantly impacted has been women in the workforce.
According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, women currently make up the majority of unemployment claims at fifty four percent.
For over 20 years now, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts has been empowering women to achieve economic independence by providing them with the tools they need to thrive in the workplace. I spoke with Margaret Tantillo, executive director at Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, and Kassandra Carrasquillo, a participant in their professional women’s group, about why women specifically are being impacted and what the organization is doing to support them during this time.
Margaret Tantillo, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts: The mission and the purpose of Dress for Success Worldwide is to help women gain economic independence. And we’ve been in the community for over 20 years building programs and services that provide tools for women to be economically independent.
Zydalis Bauer: According to Rosalyn Acosta, the Secretary of Executive Office and Labor Workforce Development, women have been significantly impacted by this pandemic, and make up the majority of unemployment claims at fifty four percent.
How have you seen the pandemic affect women specifically, and why are women being impacted dramatically compared to other demographics?
Margaret Tantillo: And actually the number is 2.5 million women who have left the workforce. It has been staggering how this has impacted women in their careers and where they were working.
For us, it’s — we of course, we are working with women and we see this all the time. A lot of it is around childcare, where women have children at home.
We ran a program during COVID and the women — it’s incredible how the women just persevere. And we had women in class attendance, one hundred percent, showing up on time, and then they’re in front of the Zoom, and their kids are right next to them and they’re helping their their children on Zoom.
And I know Kassandra was at home and just back in the office because of the situation. If you want to share a little bit, Kassandra.
Kassandra Carrasquillo, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts: Yeah. I just came back full time like, two weeks ago, but I was working from home for a whole year. So it was tough being back, but it’s a lot to get used to.
But I can say, like where she was saying when I was on the Zoom in the meetings, I did have my kids, like, around me, but it was just such a good support system to have. So, I’m I’m really thankful to be able to have that support.
Zydalis Bauer: And Kassandra, you’re a spokesperson for Dress for Success and also a participant and its professional women’s group. How has your experience been and how has Dress for Success impacted your journey into the workforce?
Kassandra Carrasquillo: There’s just so many words that I can, like — actually, I can’t even express it because it’s just, it’s an incredible feeling.
And it’s like before when when I was younger, I was very shy. Like even the school, I wouldn’t even talk that much. Presentations were not my thing. Like, I had a very hard time opening up, and being part of this organization of Dress for Success, it actually helped me bring my confidence, build my confidence, and gave me the ability to be able to shine and bring that — bring me more of the ability to be able to do what I what I’m passionate about. And that’s to empower other women, and I’m just very thankful that I actually found something that I love and that I enjoy.
Zydalis Bauer: All of those qualities that you were just referring to, Kassandra brings me to my next question. And on the Dress for Success website, I noticed that there are photos of before and after women being suited in professional attire. And presentation is important — is one important aspect, but what other ways are women needing support to enter and reenter the workforce?
Kassandra Carrasquillo: Being able to know how to, you know, where to look professional and how to speak and like what not to do,what to do in an interview. These are all the things that I’ve learned being part of Dress for Success, especially for the professional women’s group.
There’s just certain things that I’ve been inspired by and I’ve learned that it kind of made me who I am today. And they kind of gave me the aspect of being able to come to have an idea of what kind of woman I want to be.
Margaret Tantillo: In addition to suits, we run four other programs. And we took our programs online immediately. We took — we went right on Zoom and we found a lot of people didn’t have that capacity.
And actually one of the programs that we started from the very start was a digital literacy program to make sure our women had the connectivity, knew how to use the computer, and they had the equipment.
Zydalis Bauer: Dress for Success recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of helping Western Mass women succeed in the workforce. And now I recognize that this might be a difficult question to answer, but what is an inspiring and impactful story you both have come across throughout the years?
Kassandra Carrasquillo: I can say when we have these Zoom meetings and we have professional women who come and speak about what they do, I think it’s a bit about every woman who shows up and speak what they do.
For me, it’s inspiring because one day I want to be in their seat, and I want to be able to show, like other women what I do, and where I’ve started, where I’ve become. And hopefully, I’ll be able to be in that place.
Margaret Tantillo: I’m inspired every day by our women. I just saw some a couple of our women, we social distanced. But one woman that was hired three years ago and Bay State, she’s still there and being able to support herself, that every day inspires me.
Zydalis Bauer: As we are beginning to slowly start come out on the other side of this pandemic, what piece of advice can you offer women that are beginning to reenter the workforce?
Margaret Tantillo: I would definitely say with change comes opportunity. It’s the way I’ve led our organization through the pandemic, in terms of not settling down, but ratcheting everything up to make sure that we’re providing more and and serving the specific needs. And just as I led the organization like that, you’re going to see opportunities that you didn’t see before open up.
Kassandra Carrasquillo, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts: I would say don’t let the challenges stop you, just keep going and do what you love.