Fitted for Work is one of this year’s Telstra Victorian Charity Award Finalists. It’s the first time the category has been introduced to the awards, reflecting the significance of the charity sector with latest figures* showing Australian charities have a combined annual income of more than $103 billion and employ more than 1 million people.

 “When women have economic security through work, the flow on effect is transformational. Women are a catalyst for creating a more socially cohesive, prosperous society. Female participation in the workforce needs to increase for the economy to thrive,” said Donna de Zwart, CEO.

Disadvantage can happen to any woman, at any time in her life. Fitted for Work helps women experiencing all kinds of adversity break through barriers to get work, develop their confidence and achieve economic security.

Fitted for Work’s services are free to their clients who come from all walks of life. Service delivery consists of providing free interview and work-appropriate clothing, interview preparation and coaching, mentoring, life skills training, staying employed programmes, work experience and placement.

Donna credits Fitted for Work’s success to a simple formula: provide a woman with the right opportunity plus enhance her confidence equals a star performer. This formula is proven with 64% of clients achieving work-related activity within just 4 months of accessing Fitted for Work’s services.

“All of our services – from the outfitting service to our social enterprise providing recruitment and post-placement support services – have one common thread: an emphasis on the individual woman’s strengths in order to increase her chances of thriving in the workplace.”

As the first organisation of its kind in Australia, Fitted for Work stands out because it takes an holistic approach to its service offering. The organisation is best known for its outfitting service – which offers donated business clothing to women who are unable to afford interview appropriate clothes. But there’s much more on offer.

Following a review and evaluation of the client’s needs, she may be referred to one or more programs. For example, she may qualify for participation in the WomanKind program: the program consists of woman to woman training, mentor support, guest speaker events, job readiness and presentation workshops. The WomanKind suite of services can be packaged to create tailored programs to inspire, and support women through their job search journey.

Fitted for Work’s SheWorks social enterprise aims to close the loop by connecting its pool of work ready women to employers looking to recruit. In addition to candidate screening and shortlisting potential candidates, SheWorks also provides appropriate skills training where required.

Donna references Fitted for Work’s two strategic goals: to increase the participation of women experiencing disadvantage into work and to establish their own financial sustainability:

“First and foremost our mission is to get more women into work. But the only way we can keep our services free to our clients is if we generate an income elsewhere. We don’t receive any recurrent government funding, and any funding we do receive is less than 2%. In order to keep our doors open and our lights on, we are reliant on trusts and foundations, corporate partners and philanthropic individuals. We know this isn’t sustainable so we are looking at opportunities to commercial our intellectual property. That’s why we set up SheWorks following a successful pilot with Yarra Trams in which we helped 40 women successfully apply for tram driver positions.”

Donna sees the introduction of the Charity category in the Telstra Business Awards as a positive:

“Being a finalist of the prestigious Telstra Business Awards is an honour. In recognising the not-for-profit sector with its own category, the corporate sector is acknowledging the entrepreneurialism and professionalism with which the not-for-profit sector is run. The Awards are also showcasing that it is possible for organisations to address social issues with a combination of business acumen and a desire to make the community a fairer place for all. All the finalists in this category do great work and these awards reflect a respect of the high levels of expertise, talent and dedication of those who work within them.

We didn’t win the category but we’re still delighted to be part of such amazing company and to have this opportunity to increase the reach of the organisation’s message and further its strategic goals. As Donna concludes:

“Being a Charity Award finalist provides a great opportunity for Fitted for Work to raise its profile and attract much needed funds from those, particularly in the corporate sector, looking for a shared value, or social investor, proposition. Ultimately we’re not looking for handouts. We’re looking for true partnerships that generate a tangible social and financial return on investment for both parties. Ultimately, we want to work closely with organisations wanting to make a meaningful and lasting difference in terms of getting more women into work.”