“If you want something you’ve never had before, then you’ll need to do something you’ve never done before to get it.”
I first was inspired by these words from Tiffany Dufu watching her on stage in 2018 at the 99U Conference. At the time, I was a new mom just reentering the workforce, trying to balance it all. Her talk focused on how to balance everything happening in your life without feeling overwhelmed. For me, her talk truly could not have come at a better time in my life, as I was entering a new chapter of chaos and change around me. I immediately left the conference and picked up her book.
Since then, Tiffany works every day to ensure that women feel empowered, supported, and heard inside and outside the workplace. As the Founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching platform for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal growth, she spends her days focused on her life’s work: advancing women and girls.
With only 21 percent of the C-suite belonging to women, the idea of trying to get ahead and advance seems daunting when you go at it alone. The Cru was built to help provide women with support from each other to help achieve the goals they set out for. The intention is to take the work out of networking and have a group of likeminded women to help you achieve your goals. To become a member of The Cru, you simply fill out an application and are paired with nine other women based on your values, personality, demographics, and goals. You then meet and communicate with your Cru regularly to support and uplift one another.
In addition to The Cru, she is the author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less, a memoir and manifesto that shows women how to cultivate the single skill they really need in order to thrive: the ability to let go.
Tiffany Dufu recently joined Her Agenda on the phone to talk through her passions, how she keeps advancing women and girls at the forefront of what she does, and how you can get started with building out your own tribe of supportive women.
Her Agenda: First off, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! With so much going on running your business, The Cru, what does a typical week look like for you?
Tiffany Dufu: Most of my days are spent talking and listening in meetings. As a leader, my job is to help remove barriers for other people. As an entrepreneur at the early stage of a company, I’m in the thick of it. I spend a lot of time articulating the vision and communicating with my team the path to get there. I solicit their input and their ideas about how they think that we can accomplish our goals.
For my family, I do school drop-offs for my children. They are 11 and 13 years old. So there’s a lot of enabling and stewarding them, supporting them and being present.
I’m on the board for two non-profits, Simmons University, a historically women focused undergraduate university in Boston, and Girls Who Code, which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science. On any given day, some meetings will be related to these committees.
Another reason I have a lot of meetings is that on any given week, I am also talking and listening to women. Since 2012, I have tried to say yes to nearly every woman who reaches out to me. On a weekly basis now, I try to meet with at least 2-3 women to help them achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. I aim to provide any support I can to help them to create lives they are passionate about.
Her Agenda: Your book Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less helps women worldwide take a step back and focus on what is most important to them. For women that are just starting out with figuring this out for themselves, where do you tell them to start?
Tiffany Dufu: An important place to begin, if it isn’t overwhelming, is starting with getting clear about what matters most to you. Unfortunately, most of us prioritize what matters most to other people and society because we were conditioned to do so. Getting clear about what matters most to you is an important place to start. What I really try to get people to hone in on is what they hope to achieve in the relationships in different areas of their life.
There are also visualization exercises you can do as a place to start with understanding what is important to you. Stephen Covey’s funeral exercise is a great example. In the exercise, you imagine what your friends, coworkers, and family would say about you at your funeral.
Since 2012, I have tried to say yes to nearly every woman who reaches out to me. On a weekly basis now, I try to meet with at least 2-3 women to help them achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement.
Her Agenda: You mention that you started The Cru as a way of helping to advance women and girls. How would you define what it means to advance a woman in her career?
Tiffany Dufu: My passion for advancing women and girls is rooted in a number of experiences, as all of our passions are. One of them has to do with my relationship with my mother and my experience with her. My mother came from Watts, LA, and I was conceived in the mid-1970s. It was a rough time then. The only thing she knew was the environment she grew up in. She knew there had to be something different. She convinced my dad and my uncle, who was an army recruiter, to join the army. I was born nine months later at Fort Lewis Army Base in Tacoma, Washington. They broke a vicious cycle of poverty, addiction, and violence in one generation.
One of the things that my mother did was use the power of affirmations as part of her parenting strategy. Every day, my mother used to look me in the eye and say to me, as if it was the first time she was ever telling me, ‘Tiffany you are so smart, you are so loved, you are so beautiful.’ I’m trying to get to other women and share this, just like my mother did for me every day. I believe that if a woman knows these things to be true about herself, then she’ll be able to fuel her potential, whatever that may be.
Her Agenda: Many Her Agenda readers are women who are trying to break into leadership. What is your advice on how to navigate male-dominated rooms and show you belong there as well?
Tiffany Dufu: It’s very hard to show up feeling like you belong if you don’t already believe that. For me, I think about how I am going to achieve impact, given that I belong here, and who around me is going to support me and who can I galvanize to help make it happen.
We often start with the question of ‘how am I going to hit it out on the ballpark, how am I going to figure it out?’ The question is who is going to help you, not how are you going to do it alone. And if you can direct your energy into cultivating the relationships, and the people who are going to help you, because none of us does it alone, I think that’s a much more effective strategy.
Getting clear about what matters most to you is an important place to start.
Her Agenda: It’s Women’s History Month! Who are some notable women, either personally or professionally, that stand out to you as inspiration?
Tiffany Dufu: So many women come to mind! The first is Marie C. Wilson, who founded the non-profit organization The White House Project that helped to train women to run for political office. I worked for her for seven years. When she retired, I became the President of The White House Project. She also started Take Our Daughters to Work Day. She has been one of my biggest supporters and sponsors as well as mentors. She’s done a lot for all of us and was very engaged in the civil rights movement before the women’s movement. We owe a lot to Marie C. Wilson.
Another is Gloria Steinem. She is someone who has invested in me in so many ways and has given me advice. She wrote the foreword to my book Drop the Ball and has helped me tremendously.
I would also give a shout out to Reshma Saujani, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. She kicks me in the butt. I started The Cru because I have women in my life like her. I know the power of women holding one another accountable. And time and time again, when I’ve either felt like I couldn’t do something or it was too overwhelming to do, she has been there to say that you will do this. I know that if you put forth this ambition it’s going to happen.
Every day, my mother used to look me in the eye and say to me, as if it was the first time she was ever telling me, ‘Tiffany you are so smart, you are so loved, you are so beautiful.’
Her Agenda: Imagine yourself in five years. I’m curious, what advice would that future self five years from now give to you today?
Tiffany Dufu: My future self would look back and say at this moment, you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. You are learning exactly what you learn. Just keep leaning into yourself.
If you’d like to learn more about The Cru and get started with being paired with other ambitious women to achieve your goals, check out the website.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.]