Robyn de Szoeke’s ultimate fashion statement

Sonya Voumard interviews Robyn de Szoeke, Deloitte employee and chair of Dress for Success Sydney, a charity improving the employability of women in NSW.
What exactly is ‘lookism’?

Robyn: Lookism is the tendency we all have to make decisions about people based on what they wear and how they look. As the NSW chairperson of the charity Dress for Success and its director of fashion fundraising events, this is something we have debated internally. On one level we were concerned that helping disadvantaged women to dress for corporate or institutional environments might have been playing into or feeding people’s unfair preconceptions. But the fact is those prejudices exist and we are unlikely to be able to change them.

How much does appearance really matter for disadvantaged women?

Robyn: We take the view that our mission of helping women in need with presentable clothing and style advice means they are less likely to suffer ‘lookism’ prejudice resulting in a better chance of succeeding in whatever situation they are facing, be it a job interview or some other important life event. When we look great it builds our confidence and self-esteem.

Your work for Dress for Success resulted in some great recognition last year. Can you tell us about your award?

Robyn: In 2017, I was very proud to be named NSW Corporate Volunteer of the Year. The Centre for Volunteering runs this annual awards program to recognise the outstanding efforts of the 2 million+ volunteers in NSW, and to promote the importance of volunteering to the community.

How did it feel to win?

Robyn: It was a tremendous honour, not just for me but for Deloitte and Dress for Success Sydney. Volunteers contribute over 16,000 hours a year to the charity and I accepted this award on behalf of all of them.

You have a big job at Deloitte. How do you get the time to work for charity?

Robyn: Yes. My day job at Deloitte involves heading a large team that delivers the firm’s internal business services. In addition, I spend about 500 hours a year volunteering for Dress for Success Sydney. People often ask me how I have the time but I believe if it’s something you love doing, you can always find the time, whether it’s weekends, after work or half an hour at lunchtime. And so many of my Deloitte colleagues contribute too – donating their time, energy and expertise as well as supporting fundraising campaigns.

How does Dress for Success NSW help disadvantaged women living outside Sydney?

Robyn: Dress for Success Sydney has a team of “virtual stylists” dedicated to helping disadvantaged women in rural and regional NSW. Local agencies gather information about their clients’ preferences and the stylists put outfits together based on these individual needs. The morale boost they get when they receive their packages is just so wonderful to see. Bad luck or circumstances can affect all of us in life regardless of where we start off on the socio economic ladder.

The Deloitte Foundation Wishing Well Committee recently decided to donate 12k to Dress for Success to help further its work. That must have made your week?

Robyn: I was very touched at the generosity of The Deloitte Foundation’s donation to Dress for Success Sydney. It makes me feel great that Deloitte are such a wonderful supporter of the charity and also feel grateful that my personal passion and efforts are recognised. Our impact studies show that when a woman comes to Dress for Success her prospects for employment and financial independence increase significantly as she moves from welfare to work. $12,000 is a substantial amount and will make a big difference to many women who are overcoming adversity and vulnerability.


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