This week we speak with Guadalupe “Pep” Torres, executive director of Dress for Success, who is in the process of transitioning from her leadership role as she prepares to move with her family to Seattle.

1. Tell us about you and your organization and the social change you are trying to achieve.

Guadalupe “Pep” Torres

“The organization I work with is Dress for Success, a global nonprofit with branches in 23 different countries and 160 cities throughout the world. It was founded 20 years ago this year by Nancy Loveland, a 27-year-old law student at the time who received a $5,000 inheritance and decided to use it to leave a legacy gift, helping women believe in themselves, gain employment and move out of poverty. It started with a church in NYC, gradually growing the brand to its position today. Our mission is empowering women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

2. What keeps you inspired and going when things get tough?

“I am leaving the organization and moving to Seattle in a couple months. It’s an extraordinarily busy time right now because we are transitioning leadership and have a big event next week–so it’s been tough. What helps me get through generally is … living this mission of confidence in yourself. You’re going to give it your best and if it’s not perfect, that’s OK, because you have given your best. That means being diligent and hardworking, but also having some faith in yourself. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day, believing in and trusting yourself: You have the capability to address whatever is coming your way–which may mean asking for help.”

3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break new ground in a traditional field?

“Do your homework, do your research, talk to elders … looking to women who have done it before–who opened the door for them? Maybe identify an elder to build a relationship with or develop a mentoring quality in that relationship. Also, be innovative and creative in bringing your fresh idea to the traditional field. What is going to make you unique to the situation?”

Dress for Success

4. What book do you recommend to everyone you meet and why? OR What book is on your to-read list and why?

“I recommend Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It’s about how to connect with people, something I think is critical to any person moving into any professional position, being able to engage and being genuine but also being mindful of your environment. It has really helped me understand myself better and how I might be perceived by others. It also helped me understand how to listen and be more present in a conversation and how to connect to others on an emotional level.”

5. We’re proud to declare you as an alumna of Joining Vision and Action. How did your work at JVA prepare you for the work you’ve taken on?

“At JVA, my work involved juggling multiple projects and bringing your “A game” to those projects, and that’s very similar to what I’m doing now: handling programs, handling oversight of the organization and so forth. The experience gave me great adaptability and made me lose my fear of new challenges. It also gave me a larger, more comprehensive toolkit to be able to draw from. There’s so many things going on at JVA–consulting, training, management, evaluation, etc. I use the knowledge and skills I developed in these areas all the time, making me better equipped for many different and diverse kinds of challenges.”

6. What else would you want to share with us that we haven’t asked?

“I think it’s important to be very mindful of yourself and your environment, and to have a global perspective. That means more inclusion and diversity in the environments that we work in, and critically examining: Are we constantly striving to be inclusive in our communities? Are we doing our job to make sure that we are being inclusive in our decision-making process? It’s important that we start talking about that, addressing it and analyzing how it looks in our communities and workplaces.”

We want to echo Pep’s comments on the importance of diversity and inclusivity in one’s organizational practices and recommend checking out this great article by Harvard University on the subject. Does your organization need help with including input from diverse community members? We’d love to talk to you! Stay tuned next Monday for more #ChangemakerProfiles!