Tiffany Dufu — who says that her “life’s work is advancing women and girls; that’s pretty much why I’m on the planet” — just may be the ultimate Fairygodboss. She’s devoted her entire career to helping educate and empower women, and between stints at the Seattle Girls’ School, Simmons College, the White House Project and Levo, Dufu also published Drop the Ball — an invaluable resource for women — which chronicles how she learned to achieve more by doing less. (If you missed her book club discussion with Fairygodboss, check it out here!)
Dufu recently shared with Fairygodboss her #1 career tip for women, her go-to karaoke songs, and how she likes to spend her alone time.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Tiffany Dufu
Catalyst for Women & Girls, Author of Drop the Ball
New York, NY
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
TD: My life’s work is advancing women and girls. That’s pretty much why I’m on the planet. Every professional job I’ve ever had has been focused on that in some way shape or form. I started my career in Seattle at the Seattle Girls’ School. Then I moved to Boston and worked at Simmons College; after that I moved to New York and started working for — and then ran — The White House Project, which trains women to run for office.
Now I have a portfolio career; I’m an author, a public speaker, and I serve on nonprofit boards. And I’ve just wrapped up 4.5 years at Levo, an amazing place that elevates young women in the workforce.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
TD: At every school I graduated from, there’s a plaque somewhere on the campus with my name on it. My parents taught me that whatever community you’re a part of, your responsibility is not just to take, but also to contribute. Every time I go back to these schools and see my name, I’m reminded of the contributions I made.
Also, the White House Project [which I used to run] has trained 15,000 women to run for office. In 2018, there many more women running for office than ever before, and many of them are White House Project alums. It’s been amazing to reconnect with some of them.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
TD: The biggest one I would say I wrote about [in “Drop the Ball”]. I used to be someone who was terrified of ever dropping a ball. Once I had my first child, it became impossible to maintain perfection in my career and as a wife and as a mother. It took me about three years, but I finally figured out a strategy.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
TD: There are many. Right now I’m thinking about Gloria Steinem. It was just recently her birthday and also mine, so I’m always thinking about her this time of year. She’s invested in my leadership trajectory in countless ways (and she wrote the forward to my book!). She’s really taught me that sometimes you need to put your body where your beliefs are, and she consistently shows up.
FGB: What do you do when you're not working?
TD: If I had all day with no responsibilities of having to make money or parent, I would either be reading a book, dancing to music, or on a blanket in Central Park looking up at the sky and daydreaming. Notice how none of those things involve other people!
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
TD: I’m sure it’s a very popular answer, but Maya Angelou.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
TD: I have two. One is Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” I also love Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)."
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
TD: I don’t know if it’s my favorite movie, but there’s one I can watch over and over again: Dance with Me with Vanessa Williams and Chayanne.
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
TD: I could read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye over and over and over again.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
TD: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures — I believe I’m entitled to my pleasures — so I wouldn't say it’s a vice, but I would say Rent the Runway. I have an unlimited subscription.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
TD: Find your crew. Most women are trying to be successful the hard way through their own work ethic, but women really need a group of other women who are supporting them. If you don’t have one, there are many ways to find one: I was on launch team for Lean In, and there are Lean in Circles; Ellevate, Sallie Krawcheck’s community, has a great program that can introduce you to mentors; or maybe it’s friends from college. It’s important to have intentional communities of support; it’s like you’re all on a mountain together, tethered to one another, and you’re working to reach the summit.
FGB: Why do you love what you do?
TD: I love it because during my Drop the Ball journey, I came to this really important realization that what you do is far less important than the difference you make. It’s about legacy. I already know what my tombstone will say: I’m just project managing my life backwards.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.
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