How Working Wardrobes is helping women out of the ‘she-cession’ – Daily News

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In 1990, Jerri Rosen was helping women find jobs and independence after they left violent domestic relationships.

Thirty years later, the founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes never thought she’d be back in the trenches helping so many women find jobs, this time as a pandemic shut down big chunks of the economy.

The so-called “she-cession” was particularly devastating to millions of working moms, from service industries all the way up to executive suites.

In January 2020, there were 20.1 million working women with school-age children in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By April, as schools and daycares closed, 3.5 million of them withdrew from work as their children moved to virtual learning. By January 2021, some 18.5 million mothers were actively working, still 1.6 million shy of pre-pandemic numbers.

Rosen called the pivot the “sandwich effect,” which put working women in the role of primary caretaker for elderly parents and children whose resources evaporated in the pandemic.

Getting those women back to work will be no quick or easy feat, she said, as resources remain diminished.

“We actually see the absence of affordable childcare or childcare at all as one of the single most challenges women are facing,” she said Thursday from the nonprofit’s new headquarters in Santa Ana.

Despite the pandemic and a fire that destroyed Working Wardrobes’ former Irvine headquarters in February 2020, the nonprofit is coming off one of its “best years,” Rosen said.

“The community embraced us, financially and with clothing. It was almost insane,” she said. “From a client point of view, we didn’t miss a beat.”

Rosen created the nonprofit in 1990 to help women, her clients, connect with job prospects. WW provided training and other resources along with business attire. The nonprofit expanded those services to men in 1995.

Working Wardrobes is nearly one year into its Rebuilding Careers campaign. We spoke to Rosen and Chief Program Officer Mary Ann Profeta about those efforts moving forward.

Q: What happened in those early days of the pandemic? 

Rosen: When COVID hit, Mary Ann and her team instantly pivoted to a virtual format. That actually gave us a lever to go national with our workshops. Among the COVID positives, we were taking an Orange County nonprofit that’s been around for three decades, and all of a sudden we had a national footprint.

Q: Now that we’re getting vaccinated, are people seeking more help?

Rosen: What we have yet to see is the influx of people coming in to get their skills and wardrobe. People have not yet left their living rooms. They still have some fears around COVID, and many of them don’t want to go back to hospitality or retail.

Q: How long do you expect it will take to get moms back to work?

Rosen: It’s not overnight. We’re going to start seeing improvement in Q3 (third quarter) and Q4. It’s a three- to five-year build. Working Wardrobes is rebuliding careers, and our overarching message is five years … This is going to be with us for a while.

Profeta: We’re calling it the COVID conundrum. A number of people in the workforce have made some life-changing decisions. They’ve moved, given up their apartment. They want a remote job permanently. There are some companies offering that but others that can’t.

Q: Tell us about your campaign to help the jobless.

Rosen: Some of the basic skills we want to provide are IT and computer skills that can leverage them into a better paying job. That’s the name of the game with our scholarship — provide resources that can give the women options. They don’t necessarily have to go back to their old jobs.

Profeta: Imagine our clients, low-income women who are out of work but really want to work. Putting them through IT training so that they can gain these skills … so they can make that transition. Think of all the opportunities that will be available for them with all the technology that’s out there.

If we can train our people to get ready for these jobs that are out there, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Q: How big is the program going to be? Can people apply in Riverside? LA? 

Rosen: Mary Ann is not going off her virtual platform. That is one of the great benefits. We can work on multiple channels and we can serve a much broader audience.

Profeta: With Zoom and Facetime, what’s the difference? Maybe we start here and they connect us across the country. The technology also expands our hours. With the time change, that gives a lot of optionsour services.

Q: What other benefits have you seen in this pandemic?

Rosen: Each of our scholarships includes giving our clients their own laptops. That’s an enormous benefit. Doing this also gave us great access to companies. They rotate their hardware every two years or so, and our clients can use them for years. Again, another benefit of COVID.

We got several hundred laptops and we’re ready to get those into the hands of our clients. The companies were excited about it, too. They don’t have to go into e-waste, they can go people.

Also, everyone had to get more agile and flexible and resourceful. The hybrid roles — working at home or at the office — maybe we can create more balance in our lives. I’m the worst one to talk about that; I’ve been out of balance for 30 years.

About the scholarship program

Rebuilding Careers uses donations from supporters to create $1,000 scholarships providing IT training, certification, a laptop and a suit for job interviews.

To learn more or to contribute, go to

Call 714-210-2460 or email

Address: 2000 E. McFadden Ave., Suite 100, Santa Ana, 92705

Fun facts about Jerri Rosen and Mary Ann Profeta

Favorite snack food and/or TV show:

Jerri: I think the world’s most perfect food is Doritos! TV show (from Netflix): Bridgerton, The Morning Show, Last Tango in Halifax.

Mary Ann: dark chocolate or anything on HGTV!

Any new pandemic hobbies?

Jerri: More walking, more reading.

Mary Ann: Decided to take on an entire first-floor home remodel.

Any pandemic lessons learned?  

Jerri: How truly valuable friends are and how important it is to be a very good friend. How very much I love and miss international travel and HUGS.

Mary Ann: Don’t take on a large remodel during a pandemic!  I was without a fully functioning kitchen for months.

Tell us where you’re from, OC or transplanted from

Jerri: I’m a gypsy – born in Pennsylvania, moved to Arizona, moved to New York City (loved it!), moved to California over 40 years ago.

Mary Ann: I’m a “Jersey Girl” through and through, but relocated to CA in 1998 and love it!

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