Interview

Mia Johns: Executive Director, Dress for Success Austin

December 27, 2019

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Involved in politics for 20 years as a campaigner, a staffer, and now as a lobbyist - I've also worked as a creative director, freelance writer, and web-designer. These worlds all collide here at Pink Granite where we work to connect women to the resources they need to grow a career in Texas politics.

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Here at Pink Granite, we are huge fans of the work of Dress for Success Austin. Proceeds from our online jewelry sales benefit the organization (find that page here) and we’re pleased to announced that we’re also sponsoring the 7th Annual Little Black Dress Soiree on February 20th. This year it includes a showing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s!

In learning more about the work of Dress For Success I asked Mia Johns for a little of her time to tell us more about the work of this incredible organization. My key takeaway? It’s so much more than clothes!

 

 

Mia Johns, Executive Director of Dress for Success Austin

Where do you work, what is your title?

Dress for Success Austin, Executive Director

What does your job actually entail?

Every day is different, but meetings with staff, board, potential supporters. strategizing, writing, thinking, putting out fires.

Tell us more about the Mission of Dress for Success.

We help women with professional clothing for interviews and their new jobs but also we have many workforce development programs depending on what stage they are in on their career journey.

How has your career progressed toward leading the organization?

I have been at Dress for Success Austin for 8 years. I started part time as a volunteer coordinator and managed just one program. Then became director of programs and then ED in April of this year. I’ve held many different positions: marketing, public relations, research, writing, software sales, editing. I was doing freelance work for some different nonprofits and found those jobs to be the most rewarding. I knew I wanted to do something meaningful at that stage in my life.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Pasadena Texas, but I’ve lived in Austin for 30 years.

What did you study in college and where did you attend school?

I went to Texas State, then Southwest Texas. I graduated with a BA in organizational communications and journalism. I’ve found that every position I’ve held has used my degree well.

Does your organization interact often with women in Texas politics?

Not necessarily, although many of our board members are lobbyists or have worked for the legislature so we get to meet lots of women who are in politics. I worked for the legislature at the beginning of my career at the Senate Research Center under Lt. Gov Bob Bullock! Fun times.

How can someone working around the Capitol support your organization?

By spreading the word that we do SO MUCH MORE than just provide clothing. We have seven pre- and post-workforce development programs that are successful and proven to work in helping women become self-sufficient and have the ability to keep growing in their careers.

Do capitol folk bring a unique skill set or connections that are needed for your organization to succeed?

Yes! you are often in front of policy and law makers who make decisions that affect women and all of the issues that can affect them in their careers and personal lives. Dress for Success Austin’s client base is made up of the same demographic of Austin’s female population and we are familiar with the barriers they face and can speak to those with lawmakers. We also need volunteers, speakers, and supporters who are enthusiastic about our mission.

How did you get your start in non-profit work and did you have a mentor early in your career?

I spoke to this earlier in that my freelance work involved some nonprofit work which I loved. One of my mentors was actually one of my managers at Senate Research Center, Julia Rathgeber. She recognized my ability to manage projects and provide leadership. Loving fashion for many years, I knew about Dress for Success. When I saw the position posted, it combined the fashion and many skills I could bring to the table.

I want a job like yours. What do I do? How do I get started in this career? Any tips on how to get hired or steps to avoid?

Volunteer in a nonprofit and offer to help in many ways.

Pay attention to which nonprofits are doing the work you are passionate about, especially if those nonprofits have received significant grant funding then they may have positions available ;).

When you work for a nonprofit, you are going to wear many hats. They are often understaffed without many resources so expect to do things that may not fall under your job description or skillset. Be willing to help in any way.

I’m a man and I’d like to get involved with Dress for Success. How do I help?

A man is the PERFECT supporter of Dress for Success! Especially men who have had strong females in their lives – like a mom, aunt, sister, etc. We have a “SustainHER” giving circle where supporters can donate as little as $10/month to empower a woman to become self-sufficient and be able to take care of her family. Younger men who were raised by single moms know how valuable a nonprofit like ours would have been to support their moms. I like to say “Real men support women.”

Many of our readers are interested in serving on the board of a non-profit. What do you look for in Board members? What’s the commitment and how does one get into your pipeline?

Passion for our mission and willingness to roll up your sleeves and help where needed. A professional who can bring skills to our small team. The annual get/give is $2500.

What is the most rewarding part of your current job? Biggest challenge?

Rewarding – seeing the clients work so hard & the volunteers give so much of themselves.

Challenging – lack of resources.

How do women become clients of DFS? 

They are mostly referred by over 100 referral agencies, but anyone who identifies as a woman who is looking for a job or a better job can use our services. There are no income requirements.

Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t able to help a woman in great need?

The few times we were unable to help a woman it was because she was dealing with other issues that she needed to address before being ready for a job search. However, we help women find those resources before she leaves and welcome her back when she is ready.

Anything you find to be misunderstood about your job or your organization?

YES!! I know our name is “Dress for Success” but we are sooooo much more than clothing. There are so many soft skills too that we help with that are so important when job searching like how to shake hands and greet people in an interview.

Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.

I knew I would be good at this job when I saw it posted, but when I could see the big picture of the organization – its challenges and opportunities and how to work on those and where to find the resources.

Does Dress for Success get involved in state or local advocacy?

We participated in a day at the Capitol, but we need to be more involved in all levels of government because issues that affect any woman affect our clients.

Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working with other women (or supportive men) in this profession, how you learn from one another or share in successes as a team. Any tips on nurturing a relationship with other women in your workplace?

We listen to one another, challenge each other and don’t compete with one another. We are all working toward the same goal. Also, I’m learning alot from some great books on leadership and am getting better at “leaning in” and discussing the difficult topics when it is necessary. I’m also getting better at hearing how I can improve myself.

You could never do your job without ______.

people/volunteers/my family.

Best professional advice you’ve ever received?

“Clear is kind,” Brene Brown.

Advice you wish you could give your younger self?

Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t second guess yourself.

Best tip for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?

Step back and look at the list and ask yourself: what is the highest and best use of my time?

Best tip for networking?

Give more than you get.

You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead – who and why?

Ann Richards – we could dish about state politics then and now.

Michelle Obama – she could tell me how to reach the right people who could support us and give us more resources.

What’s always in your work bag?

My name tag & a retractable Pentel pencil.

Favorite place for a business lunch?

Anywhere – I don’t usually get out for lunch

Favorite place to get your news?

NPR

Favorite social media apps?

I’m only on social media because I have to be for Dress for Success. If I didn’t then I would unplug!

Favorite book for career advice.

I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I really enjoyed “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown.

If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a ____________.

A business owner in a creative venture like fashion or interiors.

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I'm Amy.

Founder + Executive Director

Involved in politics for 20 years as a campaigner, a staffer, and now as a lobbyist - I've also worked as a creative director, freelance writer, and web-designer. These worlds all collide here at Pink Granite where we work to connect women to the resources they need to grow a career in Texas politics.

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