Find Your Cru: Author, CEO Tiffany Dufu Offers Her Epiphanies

Tiffany Dufu, author and founder and CEO of The Cru advises on building a support system.

Tiffany Dufu, author and founder and CEO of The Cru advises on building a support system.

It was a Tiffany Epiphany.

Years ago while she was watching a phase of the annual 23-day Tour De France bicycle race on television, Tiffany Dufu, women’s leadership and author of Drop the Ball, says it suddenly occurred to her that what looked like an individual sport was really not that at all.

“Cycling is a team sport,” says Dufu, who is the guest in Take The Lead’s  November Virtual Happy Hour. (You can register herefor the November 14 free event.)

“There are some whose job it is to block the wind, and others get snacks,” Dufu says. Unlike cyclists who carefully select who will be on their team, “So few women curate who is around them.”

Founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching service that launched in May of this year for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal growth, Dufu says it is a mission to help women cultivate their best teams to produce the best possible personal and professional success.

Read more in Take The Lead on networking

What exactly is a cru?

CEO of @FindYourCru, @tdufu is working to help women cultivate their best teams to produce personal and professional success.

“This is a group of friends who are a sounding board, where you can be vulnerable and where you can say the good, the bad and the ugly and they will not judge us,” says Dufu, who has been named to Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women.

Secondly, this cru “needs to figure out a plan of action” with you, Dufu explains. Third on the list is a cru “has to hold you accountable for your ambition and that is tricky for people who have known you for a long time.. A lot of those people may not know the future you and they may hold you back.”

Lastly, “A cru is going to expand their economic, personal and professional capital in order for you to thrive,” Dufu says.

#Networking and mentoring groups are critical for all women, but may be especially important for women of color in business. #WomenInBusiness

Networking and mentoring groups are critical for all women, but may be especially important for women of color in business.

“According to the Women in The Workplace 2018 survey, women of color are not only significantly underrepresented, they are far less likely than others to be promoted to manager, more likely to face everyday discrimination and less likely to receive support from their managers,” reports Next Avenue.

The study of 64,000 employees found that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 60 black women are promoted. Forty percent of black women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise; 27 percent of men have had the same. Only 35 percent of black women said their manager promotes their contributions to others; 46 percent of men said their manager does. And 41 percent of black women said they never have s substantive interaction with a senior leader about their work; just 27 percent of men said the same.

One piece of advice to counter discrimination at work is to form networks, and belong to an affinity group. #FindYourCru #Sisterhood

The advice to counter this discrimination is to form networks, and belong to an affinity group, such as Dufu’s Cru.

“Form affinity groups, then contact the CEO directly, saying that you want to be a feedback organization. Then there can be a way to send information about what you and others are experiencing,”  Kim Ashby Fowler, a human resources consultant, tells Next Avenue.

A member of the launch team of Lean In, Dufu says that most women are caregivers in their relationships, but the cru is different. “People in your cru are there to take care of your ambition.” She adds, “This is the difference between cruship and friendship.”

Read more in Take The Lead on building a network

A mother of two, Dufu says her own professional journey has worked in part because of a reliable cru. “Twenty years ago I did not know I would be a tech entrepreneur and author,” says Dufu, who was Chief Leadership Officer at Levo, one of the fastest growing millennial professional networks, where she worked for seven years.

In her memoir, Drop the Ball,  Dufu resists the “do it all” mantra for women who are told they must juggle everything at their peril. According to her site, the book “urges women to embrace imperfection, to expect less of themselves and more from others—only then can they focus on what they truly care about, devote the necessary energy to achieving their real goals, and create the type of rich, rewarding life we all desire.”

That translates to you can actually achieve more by doing less, just being more deliberate.

“I do have a compass and my life’s work is advancing women and girls,” says Dufu, who was also has served as President of The White House Project, a Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College in Boston, and Associate Director of Development at Seattle Girls’ School.

“I’m not just here making a difference in life for me. I feel a huge responsibility, that is part of how I was raised,” says Dufu, who serves on the board of Girls Who Code and Simmons College. She is a member of Women’s Forum New York, Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. and is a Lifetime Girl Scout.

The mantra that is centered on her website home page is, “If you want something you’ve never had before, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done before in order to get it.”

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Dufu says she was “teased incessantly by my black peers at school for talking white and for being skinny.” She adds, ”I also used to get teased for being a nerd, my intellect and getting good grades.”

At home, however, “My parents told me every day I was so smart, beautiful and so loved. Because of that early messaging, you can find your passion and purpose,” she says. “Now people pay me for my public speaking and my intellect is part of my capital.”

Dufu recalls that once when she was in the fourth grade and her father was a pastor at a local church, the Sunday school teacher asked for a volunteer to lead the prayer. So she raised her hand and led the class in prayer, but the teacher was not happy.

“She pulled me aside and said she meant for a boy to do it and she did not want me,” Dufu says. “I learned early there are rules for men and women and women were not to lead. I will never forget feeling such a sense of injustice because those boys who do not read are supposed to the leaders. It was one of my first feminist flames sparked.”

Four years ago, Dufu says she was visiting Iceland, “one of the best places to be a woman. So I was asking advice on what we can do in the U.S. to achieve gender equality.”

The response was that women in the U.S. lack solidarity. That sparked her idea for The Cru.

“My vision for the Cru is solidarity for women across race, orientation, religion, ethnicity and age,” Dufu says.

Cruships for every woman is on the horizon. And this will be helpful to all women in business.

Entrepreneur reports, “According to a LinkedIn study, 82 percent of women surveyed believe having a mentor is important, yet one out of five reports lacking this experience. Boding well for the future, younger women are more likely to have received guidance and support from someone in their shoes: Just 34 percent of female boomers (45-66 years old) studied have had a woman mentor, while 51 percent of Gen Y (18-29) women have. At female-only networking events, attendees meet many seasoned, successful women ready and willing to help.”

As for her own vision of her future as a younger self, Dufu admits, “I did not envision these specifics for myself.“ Still, she adds, “I would have told you whatever I was doing,  my descendants would be proud of me.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project.