How women are rising during the COVID-19 pandemic through community initiatives

Mar 9 2021, 1:45 am

Written for Daily Hive by Laura Woodhouse,  the Co-chair for YES! Vancouver and professional Fundraiser.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women. In British Columbia alone, women lost 60% more jobs than men in March 2020. In the United States, women accounted for 100% of the jobs lost in December 2020. Despite this, there are women rising.

I see this every day in my work with YES! Vancouver: a group of volunteers committed to empowering professional women at all stages of their careers, while at the same time raising funds for Dress for Success Vancouver (a charity focused on supporting women who are entering or re-entering the workforce). I joined YES! Vancouver as co-chair last March—right when the world shut down—with little knowledge of the inspiration that lay ahead.

Through YES!, I met Janet: an MA student, a media professional, a personal trainer, and a Dress for Success Vancouver client and ambassador. She told me about her experience as a senior Black woman in media: an industry in which she often felt voiceless and undervalued. Seeking a career change, she came across Dress for Success Vancouver, which offered her career assistance, as well as a safe space where she could tell her own story. “Growing up in Montreal, I was taught that how you dress amplifies who you are,” she said, “and the DFSV team made me feel like a celebrity.”

Dress for Success Vancouver provided her with outfits for job interviews, along with workshops and mentorship to help her carve a new career path. It helped build her confidence to follow her dreams. “After the Black Lives Matter protests last year, I looked at myself and questioned what more I could be doing to contribute to change,” she told me. “That’s when I decided to be a DFSV Ambassador. It also pushed me to pursue a Diversity and Inclusion MA, and I plan to start my own business to teach media organizations how to act better.”

It was also through YES! that I met Stella: an NGO employee, a playwright, and a Dress for Success Vancouver mentee.

“DFSV came into my life when I was burnt out. It helped me find my story, to feel comfortable with telling it,” she said. “As a daughter of first-generation Canadians, I always felt caught between cultures growing up. A DFSV program gave me the space and support to write my own story—which I’ll now write into a play, to star in myself at a Fringe Festival sometime in the future.”

For Stella (and many other women in the Lower Mainland), Dress for Success Vancouver has offered connection and support—which in these trying times, is perhaps more important than ever. “I feel true belonging and community,” she said to me. “I see women around me celebrating everything, and I feel like my cup is filled.”

At YES!, I am surrounded by remarkable women—women who have tested new business ideas; who have had babies; who have showed up, day after day, to pivot their plans again and again. This is resilience to me: authentically following your intuition, without the guarantee of success. While this year hasn’t been easy for anyone, thanks to the community of YES! and Dress for Success Vancouver, I see so much growth and connection shining through the darkness.

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