Tiffany Bender built her life and career from the ground up. Starting out as an intern for a number of media platforms during her undergraduate career at Syracuse University, she’s currently a supervising producer at Condé Nast, and head of content at Afrochella.
Her endeavor towards greatness and resolute belief in her purpose have ensured her seat at the table. Born and bred in NewYork City, Tiffany attributes her upbringing as a contributor to her success. But Tiffany isn’t only driven to achieve career success, she’s focused on giving back to her community. She’s known as a voice for change and an advocate for anti-violence initiatives.
In our interview, Tiffany share’s the influence of her roots, the ever-changing definition of success, and the correlation between self-care and fulfillment.
Her Agenda: I know that you are from New York City and rep Harlem. How do you think growing up in the concrete jungle influenced your personality and personal drive?
Tiffany Bender: New York teaches you resilience. New York also gives you this sense of confidence that you are from a place where a lot of people would dream to even visit and you have the privilege of growing up there. And so, you kind of get instilled with that energy. But even outside of that, Harlem is a very unique space for that. It is one of the many mecca’s of the Black community.
Her Agenda: I know that you are a double degree holder from Syracuse University. In a previous interview with Strivers’ Row, you’ve mentioned that you went to grad school due to not having an immediate job offer. Can you please speak on the ways having a master’s degree has and has not impacted your career?
Tiffany Bender: I cannot speak on the ‘has not’ portion of it and I do not think I can necessarily speak on how it has directly impacted my career. I feel very privileged to be able to say that I have a master’s degree. But, I still have such high esteem for my colleagues and my peers who did not even decide to go to school at all, whether it be master’s or undergrad and still have really great, fulfilling, and successful careers. So, I can’t say that a master’s degree got me in the place where I am now and I certainly can’t say I would be here without it.
Her Agenda: During your time at Syracuse you were a part of Dimensions mentoring program, which I was also a part of. You have also received the ‘Making A Difference’ award from Black Girls Rock. What has motivated you to give back to your community?
Tiffany Bender: The motivation comes from the fact that I know where I am in my life and I did not get here by myself. Obviously, I had a great family, I had a wonderful upbringing. But, the way that my family raised all of us, was that at my grandma’s house, the door is always open. I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally, when my grandma would come out into the living room there would be kids from the neighborhood sleeping on the couch. When you give that kind of energy and love out into the universe, it comes back to you double-fold.
So, it is incredibly important to remember that I did not get here by myself. Professor Mays (who I do not know if she still teaches at Syracuse) but we did the Paris Noir program. I remember her saying, specifically to me and my best friend who is also from Harlem who also graduated from the CRS program, that with the things we learned and experienced in Paris, we should not go back to Harlem and think that we are better than anybody. Because, if we cannot share or explain this experience to, and I will never forget she said, ‘to your cousin Pookie on the corner then what did you really learn?’ And for me that really shifted that way that I think about the resources and the knowledge that I receive. It’s like it’s not mine to keep and hoard, it’s for me to be able to share it and that’s what really drives me.
Particularly when we won the Black Girls Rock award, that came from a place of not wanting to see an engagement in gun violence from nonsense specifically but also the fact that we were losing kids who never got to make it to prom. And so, to go through your whole childhood, for the most part, thinking that every party ends with a shootout, that’s trauma. And so, we took what we learned our freshman year, our experience rather, and tried to figure out well if this isn’t happening in Syracuse, if this isn’t happening on Howard’s campus, then why does it have to happen in Harlem. And, it really just started from there and grew and bloomed. But, at its essence, because I am a person who knows I have to give back to my community, whether I think I want to or not, it was just all that much easier to also have a mission that I actively cared about.
New York teaches you resilience. New York also gives you this sense of confidence that you are from a place where a lot of people would dream to even visit and you have the privilege of growing up there.
Her Agenda: Is there any advice that you give to those whom you mentor?
Tiffany Bender: If I have mentees that are outside of the industry, a lot of my advice is to remember when you are in a place of privilege or when you have resources that it is your duty to share them and not hoard them because what good does that do? For my mentees within my industry, I am just trying my best to make sure that they are continuing to be students of the industry. Even now, I am coming up on ten years being in production and I am still trying to absorb everything that I can like it is the first day of class. I don’t ever want to get to a point in my career where I feel like I know it all because then I don’t want to do it anymore.
“I am coming up on ten years being in production and I am still trying to absorb everything that I can like it is the first day of class.”
Her Agenda: From my previous encounters with you, you have always mentioned the importance of humility and not getting consumed by the hype. Besides being humble, what characteristics do you think have contributed to your success?
Tiffany Bender: I work hard, I work really, really hard and maybe sometimes to my detriment. I am grateful for my partner, my boyfriend, who is the checks and balances for myself when I feel like I might be doing too much. But, I work incredibly hard and I care about what I do and I think I have gotten better at working smarter but I try to do things with intention. Especially during this past year, with moving to Los Angeles, it was a time for me to figure out what is important to me in terms of the bigger picture of my life but also my career and how that lines up.
Something that my boyfriend said to me, that I continuously go back to when I feel I’m burning myself out at work or maybe not doing my best is that I can’t design my life around my work, I need to design my work around my life. That forces me to figure out what I want my overall life to look like and not just what my career is. For a long time, I thought yes I am hard-working, yes I am humble, but I took so much pride in those two things specifically within my job, but I didn’t have that energy for my overall life. And you start to feel unfulfilled in your career. But, again, if your life is so much bigger than your career and you are making sure you are pouring into your life in the way that you pour into your work then you have a longer run in you. So, I think humility, hard work, and being intentional have proven me well.
Her Agenda: As a woman who has held numerous leadership positions, can you discuss the importance of inclusion and diversity in the workplace? How have you overcome biased-related obstacles?
Tiffany Bender: I am in the media and we can’t say that we want to tell diverse stories and not have those players on either side of the camera, right? It is very clear and obvious in that regard why diversity and inclusion is important. Outside of media and entertainment, perspective is important. We need to first diversify the word ‘diversity’ because I find when I speak about diversity or I get invited to speak on a panel, it’s always ‘What does this one Black women think?’I can’t speak for the handicapped, I can’t speak for the LGBTQ, I can’t speak for the lower class and these are all perspectives that are deserving of being in the room and being at the table. Why wouldn’t you want to have perspective if nothing else? From a business point of view, it’s good for the bottom line even if you are someone who thinks, ‘I only care about the bag.’ From an ethical standpoint as well, everybody’s voice is deserving of being heard.
Her Agenda: When presenting yourself, you always have a smile on your face, but you demand respect. Have you always been so confident in yourself?
Tiffany Bender: I’d like to think so. The things that I am most confident in consistently are things that are within my control. The things that are not within my control, of course I naturally get self-conscious or insecure about. I surround myself with an incredible group of friends, even if they are not able to lift me up about that one thing that I am insecure about, they remind me of how great my life really is most times, or how much I have to be grateful for, or even just making me laugh to forget about it. Of course, I have insecurities but I keep myself around a very enriched group.
Her Agenda: By experiencing constant success and having the extraordinary become your ordinary life, has your definition of success changed and how do you manage to meet your standards?
Tiffany Bender: Absolutely! I am at a place in my life now, where what success looks like is completely turning itself over on its head. I value my peace a lot more than I did in the past. For me, that’s success. I feel like I am at a very successful point in my career right now, this might change in a month or a year or tomorrow, but right now I am very grateful that a large part of my brand and self was tied up into social media. I had to make sure I posted, I was working with this brand and had to post this thing and go to this event. I was running myself ragged and the return of investment was not good. It didn’t necessarily make me that much more money, I was constantly tired and sick. I had to really take stock on what was important and now success for me means I don’t have to go to anything that I don’t want to go to and I will still be okay, get paid what I need to get paid, I still have the friends that I need to have. That’s what success looks like to me: freedom.
Success for me means I don’t have to go to anything that I don’t want to go to and I will still be okay, get paid what I need to get paid, I still have the friends that I need to have. That’s what success looks like to me: freedom.
Her Agenda: Do you have any advice for other women who are afraid to make those important changes like making their voices heard and practicing self-care?
Tiffany Bender: For making your voice heard, social media is an incredible tool for that and we should all handle it more responsibly whether you have one follower or a million. We need to be much more responsible for ourselves online. In terms of self-care, what I am learning now is self-care and discipline go hand in hand. We think self-care is a spa day or taking a day off, or turning our phones off and it’s not. It’s making sure you drink enough water during the day. If you know that coffee after 3 o’clock means that you can’t sleep, and you aren’t going to have a good tomorrow, then maybe you shouldn’t have that coffee and need to go to sleep. It’s making sure that you get up and move your body 30 to 45 minutes a day when you don’t want to. For me, self-care looks a lot like discipline right now.
Her Agenda: Lastly, over the course of your career, what is one thing that you have learned about yourself and what motivates you to keep going?
Tiffany Bender: One thing that I have learned about myself is that I don’t know myself and that is both terrifying and exciting. What motivates me is that I think I am lucky to be in the industry that I went to school for that I’ve always wanted to work in. Literally, my childhood nickname is Hollywood and my family still calls me that. I’m not going to say that I don’t need motivation but it doesn’t take a lot for me to get out of bed, come to work, and do what I got to do.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]