The Cru Founder Tiffany Dufu Talks Equal Pay, Dropping the Ball and Lifting Up Women

Tiffany Dufu’s life’s work is advancing women and girls. Previously, she ran The White House Project, she was on the launch team for Lean In and she was Chief Leadership Officer to Levo. Throughout her career, she’s had a crew supporting her and holding her accountable to achieve her goals. During a conversation with a woman looking to advance her career who she advised to find her own crew, Tiffany realized it’s not that easy for most women. Juggling full-time jobs, caretaking and other responsibilities leaves little time for attending conferences and scheduling lunches to connect with people. 

“For me that was a bit of a Tiffany’s epiphany, where I realized, if my life’s work is advancing women and girls, I should probably stop preaching to women about how they need to find a crew and I should probably just find the crew for them,” she says. 

In 2018, she founded The Cru, a service designed to match women in accountability circles to support them in achieving their personal and professional goals. Today, The Cru has nearly 1,000 members.

Photo courtesy of The Cru, pre-Covid

Being a Black woman in the workforce presented challenges that gave Tiffany insights that helped her build the company. She says that in the workplace, women and people of color are often underrepresented and don’t get the critical feedback that’s necessary for their growth and development. 

“A crew can be very helpful, because it’s a group of people who care about you, but are not invested in your decision making,” Tiffany says. “It’s a more intimate relationship than what you would have with your coworkers, but certainly more objective than with your friends.”

She found her personal crew, a group of peer mentors, through her career and networks because she is a member of women’s organizations and attends many events as a guest and a speaker. They specifically held her accountable for starting The Cru because it was one of her intentions.

As a Black woman and as a mother, starting a new business came with a set of challenges. In order to get a company off the ground, you have to put in a significant amount of sweat equity which is hard to accomplish while working a full-time job to pay bills, and provide for children. Tiffany solved this issue through entrepreneurship as a public speaker. She earned income while also being able to market her business to attendees of women’s conferences and events. She also had to monetize the company right away and charge for the service in order to gain the necessary revenue to support the business.  

After The Cru matched 100 women in the first class, more women kept applying and Tiffany realized she needed to raise venture capital in order to match them. According to digitalundivided’s ProjectDiane, Black women received 0.27% of total venture capital investment between 2018-2019. This statistic made this process daunting for Tiffany, she says, but she found a sponsor who simplified the process, made introductions and supported her. More support with this process came from a member of her crew, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, who became her first angel investor.

Leading The Cru has helped her dig into her purpose and authenticity in addition to encouraging her to reach out and get help in ways she never has before. 

“Vulnerability has become my superpower as founder and CEO of The Cru because entrepreneurship in a lot of ways is like a game of Whack a Mole,” Tiffany says. “The next challenge appears before you know it, so it’s really about being open and receptive to feedback, and making sure you have the right people around you.”

Photo courtesy of The Cru, pre-Covid

The Cru successfully brought three members of the Phoenix Five together to start their own concierge app called famHQ to support working moms in their career growth. This platform will in turn benefit other women juggling multiple responsibilities during the pandemic. 

In addition to running The Cru, Tiffany supports movements for equal pay for the unseen labor of caretaking including the Marshall Plan for Moms and PL+US. She also published her book “Drop the Ball” in 2017 which encourages women to release the unrealistic expectations of having to do it all, figure out what matters most to them and learn to get help from other people. Tiffany calls it her “love letter to women.”

For women struggling with juggling caregiving responsibilities, full-time jobs and other obligations, Tiffany has a piece of advice inspired by Cicely Tyson’s memoir. 

“Grant yourself the grace,” she says. “Every day, you’re just getting up, doing the best that you can, and doing right by yourself, your family, your community and the world. Just give yourself a hug.”

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Aliyah Armstrong is an intern at Better with a passion for arts and entertainment reporting. A senior in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she is also minoring in Sociological Studies. Aliyah supports the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Black Youth Project 100, an organization that aims to create justice and freedom for all Black people.

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