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."