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After the Royal Wedding fever of 2018, the attention on Prince Harry and his new wife Meghan seems unstoppable. Tabloid writers feed of any hint of a story, whether it’s a potential rift between Meghan and Kate or what the young royals will be naming their new baby. Despite all the eyes watching her every move, Meghan Markle – now HRH The Duchess of Sussex – is using her new platform to champion some very positive causes. A lifelong advocate for female empowerment and gender equality (we’ve all heard about her childhood exploits campaigning against a sexist soap advert), the new Duchess has recently announced patronage of an organisation that works to support women trying to enter the world of work: Smart Works.
Who are Smart Works?
Smart Works are a charity who operate in seven locations across the UK to provide high quality clothes for unemployed women who are preparing for a job interview. They also give the women interview training in order to develop their confidence and increase their chances of succeeding at interview stage. Many of the women who come to Smart Works have been rejected for over 50 jobs, which can severely affect their belief in their own abilities. Therefore, to have the Smart Works team on hand to help them prepare and to have that extra boost to the self-esteem when it counts, can make a real difference.
Why support Smart Works?
It may seem frivolous to some people that this royal platform is being used to raise awareness for a charity which focuses on fashion; however, the significance of their work is so much more than just an outfit. The women who are referred to them are those who are struggling to find a job; which in our line of work, we know can be for a whole number of very serious reasons. Victims of domestic abuse can find it very difficult to succeed in interviews if their confidence has been manipulated and exploited by their abuser. Those recovering from substance abuse might not be in a financial position to be able to get the clothing needed to present a professional front to prospective employers. Women who have had their mental health affected by any one of all the issues social workers encounter on a daily basis can actually benefit greatly from the work of the Smart Works team. And these are the women who Smart Works help.
The recipients of these interview outfits are referred to Smart Works from places such as “job centres, work programmes, prisons, care homes, homeless shelters and mental health charities”. For women in these situations, an outfit means a lot more than just a matching set of clothes. It’s the ability to look at yourself in the mirror and feel like you are stronger than the causes of your unemployment. It’s the chance to present a version of yourself that external causes have kept hidden until now. It’s a step towards a job which can provide financial independence, stability and professional purpose. It’s a gateway to a more positive life.
Not just a personal shopper…
They recognise that the women who come to them need more than just new clothes to improve their interview chances. After all, presenting the right image might help first impressions from your potential new employers, but you still need the confidence and skills to succeed in the interview. Therefore, the Smart Works teams put great emphasis on developing appropriate skills and workshopping different scenarios with the women they work with, so that when it comes to the interview, they’re able to present the best version of themselves – both in appearance and capabilities.
The comments from women who have used Smart Works to prepare for an interview and succeeded in securing a job (as do over 60% of women through the Smart Works doors) are a real validation for this service. One case study, Letitia, comments “Being unemployed for a long time and being unsuccessful in so many applications had really impacted negatively on my sense of self-worth and confidence. I didn’t really believe in myself at interview which I am sure showed, and I know I wasn’t instilling confidence in the people interviewing me”. However, after working with the team at Smart Works, she felt a “real confidence boost” and explained how their interview preparation session had helped her learn how to handle the difficult questions she encountered, and she went on to secure a job at Google.
Whether or not you’re in favour of the monarchy, or if disagree with the idea that any action they take is “news-worthy”; it’s undeniable that this is the state of play at the moment. A member of the UK royalty sneezes and it’s in every newspaper the next day. Any item of clothing either of the two Duchesses wears sells out within hours. So surely, it’s a positive sign that the Duchess of Sussex is using this unavoidable attention and analysis into her every fashion choice to highlight causes like Smart Works. This charity helps women who might find themselves in a vulnerable position to find their footing in the world of work: promoting empowerment and equality within employment.
In social work, we know there are multiple different avenues and channels towards facilitating change for a vulnerable person; so why shouldn’t fashion be one? We’re not saying an outfit can change everything, but the way we view our appearance has knock-on effects for our mental health and specifically our confidence; which can help build inner strength to succeed in a particular situation. Overall though, as Yves Saint Laurent put it: “What is more important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it”.