This organization is helping women take charge of their careers and their finances.
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Capital One Future Edge

As a young woman, Brandi Tillman never thought of herself as a financial role model.

Growing up in Chicago, she was raised to believe that navigating the financial world was a task that was best left to men.

“I know firsthand, boys in my family are taught to save money," says Tillman. “Work a job, save money, 'this is how you get a house, this is how you get a car.' The girls [weren't] taught that [as much]."


So it's understandable that when she opened her first savings account in college, she didn't really try to understand how to use it.

“I didn't know how to manage [a savings account] without overdrawing," recalls Tillman. “I didn't keep it long because I didn't know what to do with it."

Needless to say, Tillman had developed a bit of a financial blindspot over the years that was impeding her ability to achieve the level of success of which she was more than capable.

It impacted her career as well. She veered away from jobs that dealt significantly with finance.

Thankfully, Tillman got wind of an organization called Dress for Success that's helping women learn the skills they need to succeed in both the workplace and finance world.

A Dress for Success class in Seattle. Photo via Dress for Success.

Started in 1997, Dress for Success Worldwide is a global organization that was created to “empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life."

One of those tools is now a comprehensive financial education program. In partnership with Capital One, Dress for Success is offering its network of goal-oriented, career-driven women the opportunity to take a financial well-being course aimed at helping them define and achieve their individual goals.

Tillman was invited to participate through the Professional Women's Group — a life-long network of employed Dress for Success women that offers support, practical information and inspiration to help them reach their goals.

She agreed because she had never taken any class or course on finances before. However, she wasn't sure what to expect.

“When I signed up for it, I thought it would just be talking about how to make money, then how to spend it, then how to save. I thought those were going to be the main points, but there was this broad perspective."

The 13-week program, hosted at Capital One's Lincoln Park Café and facilitated by Café Ambassadors, went in-depth on subjects like stocks and bonds, mutual funds, how banks interact with consumers, and the tactics for building and maintaining good credit.

For Tillman, it was a game changer. “I heard about these things before, but I never got any kind of explanation on how to get them, what they're there for, different ways they're used," she explains.

But the program's not just about helping women gain financial knowledge. It's helping women, like Tameka Flowers, land the job of their dreams.

Flowers (center) graduating from the financial literacy program. Photo via Flowers.

A working mother of three from Los Angeles, Flowers was job searching frantically for something that could pay the bills immediately rather than thinking long-term.

“I was applying for any job," says Flowers.

She went on 20 interviews, but kept coming back empty-handed. Then Dress for Success helped her clearly define her goals and think about the future. Soon after, she landed her dream job as Manager of Learning and Development for Goodwill Southern California. She also now serves as an Ambassador for Dress for Success Worldwide, and was invited to participate in the organization's Financial Education Program.

“Just being a part of that program, it really took my confidence to the next level," she says.

As much as the Financial Literacy Program is about strategizing and defining your own financial goals, it's also about learning from other women of all backgrounds and financial histories, and creating a network of support.

Ana Maria Matos, a social worker from Portland, Oregon, who also took the course, likens it to learning to speak English as her second language.

“I don't feel like you learn it in the classroom. You learn it by going out and speaking and talking to other people. I think financial [strategy] is the same way."

“There were women who were 50, 60 plus in our class who could give insight on mistakes they had made…financial mistakes and financial goals they had throughout life," explains Tillman.

And it didn't only go one-way. Tillman said the younger members were just as adept at teaching the older women about online banking, cash-pay apps like Zelle and other technological advances in finance.

A Dress for Success class in Glendale, California. Photo via Dress for Success.

Now Tillman is interested in passing her newfound financial wisdom on to her 14-year-old daughter, Makya. In fact, at the top of Tillman's newly defined financial priorities is opening a savings account in her daughter's name.

Perhaps Tillman's daughter will even have the opportunity to join this fast-growing network of strong and supportive women. Since its inception, Dress for Success Worldwide has expanded to more than 150 cities across 30 countries, and continues to invest in the lives of more and more women every day.

Being able to take charge of personal finances is vital to securing independence and security for the future, and should be a prerogative of every person, regardless of age or background.

Tillman, Flowers and Matos are just a handful of the women from Dress for Success Worldwide who've taken charge of their own financial well-being. And they hope to lead and inspire many more to follow suit.

“One of the things I really think we need to create [is] awareness," says Matos. “All of us can dream and achieve goals. It just happens that we need to have somebody who can make us see that nothing is impossible."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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