Part of an ongoing series called SocietyA Community, founder of Image Mission Ltd and Dress For Success Singapore Pang Li Kin opens up about her work, how the pandemic has affected her clients, and how her and her team of coaches are helping female jobseekers build successful careers.
Before we get into it, here are some figures for you to crunch.
According to a study conducted in October 2020 by the United Nations on women, less than 50 percent of women who are in their prime working age are in the labour market at that moment, and this is a number that has barely shifted over the past 25 years.
Globally, women held only 28 percent of managerial positions in 2019 – another figure which has not changed much since 1995.
Closer to home, the Labor Market 2020 report released by the Ministry of Manpower stated that females were more prone to retrenchment compared to their male counterparts – with 11.3 percent of retrenched workers being women as compared to 10.9 percent male retrenchments.
It is frustrating to think that even in 2021, women are still facing a disproportionate level of employment risks. Couple up with the fact that many of them have the added responsibilities of raising children, providing care for older family members and the disadvantages that women face in the employment sector is amplified even more.
One woman who hopes to change that is Pang Li Kin, the founder of Image Mission Ltd and Dress For Success Singapore.
The first impression anyone gets of Li Kin’s work is that she provides image consultancy for the women who come to her – and while that may be true, it is not the end of how Li Kin works with her clients.
“When I was working on my business plan for Image Mission Ltd and Dress For Success Singapore, I did some research,” Li Kin told us. “I found that unemployment rate is higher among women than men, and when you look at long term unemployment, it’s also higher amongst women. Just looking at the group of women who come to us for their services, nearly half of them are single mothers who need to have financial independence. They need employment in order to raise their family and to build a future for themselves.”
Image Mission Ltd is a Singapore-based, registered charity that manages the local affiliate of Dress For Success Singapore.
She also goes on to elaborate that “the majority are like low-income families. Some of them have recovered from illness – be it mental or physical – and they want to go back to work. Then, there are some of the women who were homemakers during their time of marriage, and they struggle to return to the workforce as well due to the long period of time away.”
For Li Kin and her trusted team of coaches, to perform a service that truly benefits the women who come to her for help, it requires more than just giving free clothing away.
Each client of hers gets a personalized consultation with Li Kin and her team of coaches, who are then able to provide adequate skill-training courses and mentorships to better equip the female jobseekers. These can range from finding employment to setting long-term career goals and managing their finances.
“It’s teaching them how to fish, instead of giving them the fish,” she explained. “We don’t just give them clothes. When they come here, we show them how they can dress themselves, or style their own look based on their personality and the job environment, so that they can feel confident.”
Li Kin candidly shares that when her clients first arrive at her office, they often look “very downtrodden and shy. They’re not sure what to expect from the meeting, so when we coach them, one of the things we ask them is what their strengths are, and they would sometimes reply ‘I do not have any strengths’. But after they have gone through the coaching, you start to see that they begin to realise the strengths they never thought they had. And once they put the clothes on and look at themselves in the mirror, they see how beautiful they can look. It’s about transformation from the inside out.”
At the start of last year’s circuit breaker, Li Kin’s team did a study amongst their clients. The results were abysmal.
According to her, about “two-thirds of them are either unemployed or have lost their jobs during the pandemic – and this was just a month into the global pandemic when we did this survey. About 30 percent of respondents told us they were struggling very badly with the financial situation, which if you add that to those who are struggling to some extent, is about 75% of our clients who were facing some level of financial uncertainty.”
Even with the government’s financial aid dispensed throughout the last year, finding sustainable employment was still the top priority for the Dress For Success Singapore team and for their clients. Furthermore, given the socio-economical situation of some of her clients, Li Kin estimated that only about 30 percent of her clients owned a laptop, which puts the rest of the women who do not have a laptop at a greater disadvantage during their job hunt.
To help address this unique and unprecedented time, Li Kin’s team looked into rolling out a series of virtual services.
“We asked them what kind of services they needed,” Li Kin elaborated. “Our clients highlighted that they wanted to improve on managing their finances, or to upgrade their communication skills so that they can get jobs easier, and so forth. After listening to them, we started introducing virtual workshops, and the responses were good. We had a lot of them attending our virtual workshops.”
These workshops are still running and have become a regular mainstay within Dress For Success Singapore’s ecosphere of services.
“We now have a program that prepares them throughout the job search journey,” Li Kin continued. “It’s a four-part program called I Am Ready, and by the end of the session, we work together with each participant on the plan in their job search journey. We go through various points, looking at all the employment opportunities that would best fit their skillsets, and we help them to monitor their progress until they get a job.”
One client who has benefitted from Dress For Success Singapore was a single mother with two daughters.
“When she came to us, we helped her look at what career would suit her,” Li Kin shared. “A lot of women who come to us say they think that the only career path they have is in administrative work because they don’t have much education or experience. After having a coaching session with this client, we found out that she had a passion to work with children.”
From there, Li Kin’s team coached her in looking for jobs pertaining to children and in the social service sector, which soon led to this client finding a job as a welfare office in a children’s home.
“It was exactly what she wanted, and she felt that the work was very meaningful to her,” Li Kin said beamingly. “We didn’t stop there either, because part of our service is to provide continual mentorship even after the hiring process is complete, so they can continue to excel on their career paths. We provided her with mentoring in her first year of work, during which we worked with her to set some goals such as planning a family vacation or owning her own HDB flat. We’re still working with her till this day.”
For the future, Li Kin has her own goals set for Dress For Success Singapore.
“In 2021, we want to introduce a new program where we work with employer-partners – a pool of potential employers – who can offer employment opportunities to our clients,” she revealed. “We can run career talks for our clients, hold virtual career fairs and ultimately introduce them to jobs that they have never thought to consider. A lot of them really do not know what jobs they should look at, because they do not have much experience and they limit themselves to only looking within clerical roles. They are afraid to explore the world of job opportunities out there. Our idea is therefore to bring in these employers that can give them job vacancies and expose them to more career varieties.”
Still, Li Kin is quick to caution that this is not exactly a job matching service. Rather, it is an opportunity to expose her clients to the vast array of career choices out there and empowering them to make the decision about which job path they would like to take.
“It makes their employment more sustainable and long-lasting,” she continued. “Because one of the challenges they face is short–term employment – where they get employed, but it wasn’t their choice of career – and they don’t last long in the position. What we want for our clients is to move towards creating more sustainable employment, and to allow them to advance in their career.”
For information on donating to Image Mission Ltd, please visit giving.sg/imagemission. Alternatively, for information on volunteering with Image Mission and Dress For Success Singapore, visit imagemission.org/volunteer to find out more.
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
SocietyA Community is an ongoing feature that seeks to uplift and amplify female voices who are making a difference, whether it is in their chosen industry or within the community. If you would like to nominate someone for a future SocietyA Community feature, please let us know by writing in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography: Zetty Ardila/SocietyA; Makeup: Special thanks to NARS.