You could say Adrienne Busby was tailored for this.
Raised by egalitarian parents – her mother was a professor of nursing and her father, a physician – Adrienne missed the pernicious social conditioning that convinces women there’s something they can’t do. As the Dress for Success president tells it, “My mom and dad pushed my sister and me to stand on our own two feet and… know that, no matter what happens, we would be OK.” It was that message – part of the core of Dress for Success – that made Adrienne a natural fit for the women’s empowerment nonprofit.
We recently sat down with Adrienne – who works by day as a product liability litigation partner for Faegre Baker Daniels – to discuss the evolution of her work with Dress for Success Indianapolis (DFSI) and the work we need to do culturally to champion working women.
Dress for Success: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Dress for Success?
Adrienne: There’s this idea that, “Oh, it’s just about giving women clothes for interviews,” but it’s so much more than that.
A lot of our clients have had a hard time getting into the workforce. Some have had run-ins with the law, some have had health issues, some are domestic violence survivors. You can’t count the number of ways that life interrupts your plans, but what I like about Dress for Success is it’s a support network.
Our clients can join the Professional Women’s Group (PWG). Within that group, there is peer and programming support, including the financial literacy program. We have members of the PWG who are lifelong members. They have a job, they’re successful and they’re coming back to share with their PWG sisters what they’ve learned and to be mentors for one another. It’s a constant loop of support.
Dress for Success: How important has that camaraderie been to you and the women who call PWG their sisterhood?
Adrienne: It’s everything. We all need to be seen and to be open with our own challenges. You know, I’ve got two young kids and I’m just a mess some days. But to share what’s challenging to you and to be real, that’s important.
Sometimes you need to know that other people have had bumps in the road, too – it’s not always a straight path up, but that’s OK because you’re still on the path.
Dress for Success: Speaking of paths, what was your path to DFSI?
Adrienne: Every year, we have a fundraising event called Stepping Out in Style. It can vary anywhere between 750 and 1,000 people in attendance, and it’s just an amazing gala. We have a Diamond Dig, a wine pull, and a fashion show featuring Dress for Success Indianapolis clients and prominent women. [FaegreBD Partner] Jessica Cox was on the planning committee, and she said, “I think it would be great if you joined as the logistics chair.” She knows I’m Type-A and I never met a color-coded spreadsheet I didn’t like, so she thought it would be a good fit. I joined the steering committee and, in 2012, was the logistics chair. I did that for maybe a year or two and then I moved into an event chair role. In 2014, I was invited to join the board of directors and I continued to chair the event up until last year. I stepped down because I became the president-elect [of the board] and there was no way to do both and do the day job I have, so I just transitioned. But I think it’s a great thing for events to have a fresh pair of eyes and evolve, and I’m excited to contribute in a different way.
Dress for Success: How do you see your work for DFSI evolving as you step into this new role?
Adrienne: We have an active, working board filled with people who are passionate about the mission. Some are dialed into fundraising and finance, and others are very close to our client programming. I have been focused on the event and fundraising side for several years, and I’m looking forward now to widening my lens.
Dress for Success: What about in your professional life? How has that evolved, as you work to negotiate more work-life balance?
Adrienne: I have been in practice for about 18 years now, and neither my practice nor my concept of work-life balance is the same now as it was when I started. I am glad for that. That’s why I became a litigator – to be able to work with brilliant people on fun, challenging projects that are not the same every day. I am fortunate that I work in a place where I can build an interesting career and have a life outside of the office. For me, work-life balance is not a static state. It’s a constant evolution.
Dress for Success: What can we do as a culture to better support early- to mid-career women?
Adrienne: We need to give each other the gift of time. Spending time with women and asking questions about what they want to see in their careers, what their obstacles are, and how we can help is really important. I mean, you can’t eliminate someone’s obstacles, but you can sure talk them through it. Dress for Success will always benefit from donors and people who are willing to support the mission financially, but that’s not possible for everyone. But every day, you can give someone your time. You can take just a second to give someone a pat on the back, a moment of mentorship or just the feeling that your door is open.