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Jing Xu has benefited greatly from the support of other women — and is now paying it forward with Dress for Success.

International Women's Day has a special meaning for Jing Xu, a Royal Bank employee who has benefited greatly from the support of other women — and is now paying it forward.

Xu's gratitude dates back to when she came to Canada from China as an international student eight years ago. Her goal was to get a business degree and build a career in finance in a country she saw as both beautiful and filled with opportunities.

Xu knew there would be barriers, including the English language. And she would also have to get used to the Canadian culture, which has many differences compared to China's Sichuan province where she grew up.

She obtained a degree from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., with a major in economics and a minor in math. But Xu had a deadline after university; she had a three-year work permit that would run out unless she secured full-time work.

“Everyone told me the same story: It's hard for immigrants to Canada to find a job," says Xu, now 27.

Women helping women

After graduating from university, Xu moved to Ottawa, in part because it was the capital of the country, as well as a larger city with potentially more job opportunities. In Ottawa, Xu learned about Dress for Success, an international not-for-profit organization with a mission to help "women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life."

Dress for Success, supported by RBC Wealth Management and the RBC Foundation, provides services before and after the crucial interview process, to help women succeed.

Maureen O'Neill, vice president and portfolio manager at RBC Dominion Securities Inc. in Ottawa, stresses the organization isn't a handout. "It's about providing tools and a network of support to help women become more self-sufficient," she says. "The common thread is that these women are motivated to work and help themselves. They want to be contributing members of the community. They just need a little help."

Intrigued, Xu went to the Ottawa branch of Dress for Success. “I remember when I first stepped into the office, I felt immediately welcome," says Xu.

She remembers getting a brief introduction to the organization and then someone asking a question that left her pleasantly surprised: "They asked me what it was that I wanted to do."

It was a question Xu had been thinking about for years, ever since her parents encouraged her to broaden her horizons by studying in North America and pursuing her interest in a career in financial services. She worked as a student intern at a bank in China and wanted to continue in the same type of environment in Canada.

Building confidence

At Dress for Success Ottawa, Xu learned about The Suiting Program, where women can pick out what they need for an interview from a room full of donated professional-looking clothing, jewelry and accessories. The program also emphasizes confidence on how to succeed on the job. “They helped me understand what to wear and how to be confident," Xu says. "That's not something you can find on Google."

The volunteers at Dress for Success also gave her a “dress rehearsal" job interview not just once, but 10 times, upon Xu's request. While Xu knew the additional mock interviews weren't a regular event at the organization, she says the volunteers were very accommodating as she over-prepared to make a great first impression with a potential new employer.

“They helped me feel empowered," Xu says of her Dress for Success support team. "They helped me find my self-confidence — that's an important word for me. They put me in the right direction. I really appreciated all of their help."

Learning from each other

Her first job interview was with RBC, which hired Xu shortly after. Xu started working at the bank in Ottawa in October 2015, first as a client advisor, and now as a banking advisor helping clients with their personal and business banking needs.

Xu says working at RBC is similar in many ways to her experience at Dress for Success as people support and mentor each other to do and be their best.

“It's a wonderful environment at RBC, where everyone learns from each other. All of my managers have also helped me a lot," says Xu. That includes being patient as she continues to work on improving her English language skills, while also building her qualifications at the bank. “Everyone has been very accommodating, very understanding and helpful," Xu says. "I feel very privileged to be part of this community."

Paying it forward

Xu now volunteers at Dress for Success Ottawa. She has spoken on behalf of the organization at local events, as well as reached out to other women, particularly in the Chinese community, encouraging them to take advantage of the services provided. "I want more people to receive the same benefits I have," says Xu. "I want to help them make positive changes for themselves and their families."

O'Neill says Xu has been an inspiration to the team at Dress for Success and her colleagues at the bank.

"Everyone enjoys working with her and being around her," says O'Neill, who has worked at RBC for 27 years and served on the board of Dress for Success for seven years. She remains involved in the organization, including around this year's International Women's Day events.

'When you are open to people, they are open to you'

O'Neill is also proud of the partnership formed between The RBC Foundation and Dress For Success. The RBC Foundation provides grants to support community activities and organizations worldwide, and is a national sponsor of Dress for Success.

"It's both rewarding and reassuring to work with a company that is focused on helping people in the community — as well as their employees who want to lend a hand," O'Neill says. "I'm proud to work for a company that puts their money where their priorities are."

As we celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, Xu encourages women to support each other and to not be afraid to follow their dreams, even if there are occasional setbacks. "When you fail, you always learn and it helps you do better in the future," Xu says. "We should always learn from each other. We should always be honest and open and good to each other. When you are open to people, they are open to you."

International Women's Day 2018 saw 766 employees engaged in events at 34 branches of RBC DS across the country. RBC Foundation has invested $165,000 in organizations supporting women in our communities.