Dress the Part

By: 
Dec. 22, 2017

After serving on the board of an organization for human relations professionals, Karen Anderson, an executive with one of the largest senior living communities in Southwest Florida, sought another way to give back.

She met Barbara Dell, CEO of Dress for Success SW Florida, at a business meeting. Dell delivered a presentation about the organization, and Anderson was intrigued.

The international organization, with an affiliate in Fort Myers, helps women who are unemployed or underemployed by outfitting them in professional clothing and offering classes on searching for a job, writing a resume and building interview skills. “The thing I love about Dress for Success is that it's not just about the clothes and making people look good,” Anderson says. “It's really about lifting women up and empowering them to change their lives.”

Initially, Anderson wanted to be a shopper for Dress for Success, and help women put together an outfit at the nonprofit's boutique. But Dell had a different idea. She talked with Anderson about serving on the board, and in 2010, Anderson became a board member. Anderson served as board secretary and vice president, then assumed the role of president in 2014.

Anderson is the vice president of human resources and technology at Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers. With Dress for Success, she says she can help clients understand how business works from the inside. That goes from what happens when an applicant doesn't hear from a potential employer to what makes a potential employer interested in an applicant.

And in her role as board president, Anderson is also a sounding board for Dell in talking about tactical decisions and longer-term strategies. “I can always use her advice, and I can always count on her,” Dell says.

Anderson is also the chair of Dress for Success SW Florida's Women Empowered Through Employment Series. She helped create the curriculum for the series with other committee members and is one of the speakers. The six-week series brings in different professionals from the community to talk about various skills, including interviewing, resume writing, networking, budgeting and financial planning. “Through that group activity, these women get to know each other really well,” Anderson says. “They become a support system for each other.”

During the series, the women also complete an activity to help identify their strengths. It helps them learn to talk about themselves in a positive way in job interviews, Anderson says. That confidence to communicate is an aspect of the program she feels particularly strongly about.

The series attracts a range of women, from their 20s to their 60s. They range from those who have never worked to women who worked as professionals before but who are now underemployed and seek career advancement. There are also women who have retired and want to rejoin the workforce.

Dress for Success SW Florida hosted the series for the first time in September, and it plans to hold another series in early 2018. Dell says of Anderson, “Because of her leadership, we're going to be talking to more donors for next year and to continue to grow this program and get more involved in placement and take it to the next level.”

Anderson says her appreciation for her own life makes Dress for Success more meaningful. “I had good role models growing up,” she says. “My mom is a tremendous example for me as a leader and as a person, and I realize that not everybody is that fortunate. Being able to share that with people who haven't been that fortunate or who have fallen on hard times and forgotten they have worth — that opportunity really spoke to me.”

Executive: Karen Anderson, vice president of human resources and technology, Shell Point Retirement Community, Fort Myers
Organization: Dress for Success
Giveback: Karen Anderson is the president of the board of Dress for Success SW Florida. She also chairs a program to teach women career and interviewing skills.
Mission: Helping women secure employment through professional clothing, classes and support.