In 2013, Tiffany Dufu did something completely contrary to the philosophy in her bestselling book, Drop The Ball. She was at a point in her career where she was getting numerous requests from women for coffee meetings or to "pick her brain." Instead of declining the requests due to her increasingly busy schedule, she said yes. To all of them.
Since then, she's met with and talked to over a thousand women about their professional goals, and says it's been the most informative part of her life as a women's leadership development expert. But what Dufu has realized is that, more often than not, women don't have a group of peers supporting them who can hold them accountable to their goals or leverage their personal networks to help them succeed. As someone who attributes much of her success to the support of the women around her, she wants other women to have support groups, too.
That's why Dufu is launching The Cru, a peer coaching service that connects women who want to jump start their professional growth. Each Cru will be comprised of 10 women from different backgrounds, industries, and networks, and will come together to help each woman realize her professional goals.
We talked to Dufu about The Cru, why women need to support one another, and how her experience in Iceland changed the way she thinks about the need for solidarity.
What inspired you to start The Cru, and how exactly does it work?
"It has to do with my own leadership journey. I had this Tiffany's epiphany – that's what I call my aha moments – a few years ago. I was having lunch with a colleague who was a cycling enthusiast, and I was explaining to her that I thought cycling was an individual sport. When I would catch a snippet of the Tour de France on TV, I assumed that each cyclist was competing against all of the others to get to the finish line. But she explained to me that I had it all wrong – that I was actually watching a team of multiple cyclists working together and that everyone had a different role. There were the sprinters, the climbing specialists, the domestiques, who all helped one another. And it was such a Tiffany's epiphany, because I realized that I had my leadership journey all wrong as well – that I was trying to be successful as if it was a solo endeavor, when my own success was actually a team sport.
"Since then, I've become so intentional about seeking out what I call 'peer mentors' to help me blaze my path. They do four things in particular: listen to my challenges and my visions, help me create a plan, hold me accountable to the plan, and leverage their networks and their capital in order to help me thrive. I can give you a list of the women that made Drop The Ball a bestseller last year, because they bought multiple copies of the book, hired me to come and speak, and promoted it. And I do all of this for them as well. We've all crossed many finish lines together.
"When I meet with women and describe my Cru to them, they often say: 'That's great, but I don't know where to find those women for myself.' And so I decided to launch an adventure that can help more women find their own Crus. Because I really believe that every woman needs one. You apply to become a member of The Cru, and then our empirically-based mechanism matches you with nine other women who can help you to be successful."
What does a successful Cru look like to you?
"Ultimately, a successful Cru is one in which each woman has met her objective that she wants to achieve. I also think it's important for Crus to have diversity across race and ethnicity, socioeconomics, and industry. One of the reasons why my Cru works is because not everyone runs a nonprofit, and not everyone's in the corporate space. We've got a communications professional, a digital editorial maven; we've got women from different backgrounds who have different areas of expertise and different networks that they can lend to our Cru. That's another reason why this kind of thing sometimes doesn't work if it's just your friends, because friends usually all come from similar backgrounds and have access to the same networks. So for me personally, it's been really important to have women of different faiths, women who were born in different parts of the world and raised in different parts of the country – just a richly diverse group of women."
How did your Cru in particular come together?
"Ironically, I had access to all of the women already, but I didn't really think of them as my Cru. It was through different circles, and us getting together for drinks and really figuring out how we were going to support each other. I go to nearly every women's conference, and if there's any kind of women's network, I belong to it. So I had a lot of experience and a lot of access to really dynamic women, and that's part of the reason why I wanted to launch The Cru – because most women are not doing the level of networking that I'm doing with all of these events, and I think it's really important, even if you're a person who has a full-time job and a family and doesn't have time to go to a bunch of networking events in the evening, that you still have access to a badass and dynamic group of women."
What is your vision for the future of The Cru? How do you see it growing?
"I hope that The Cru becomes a new solidarity movement for women. A few years ago, I was in Iceland — a country that has been ranked as one of the top three countries to be a woman in the world for the past decade — for a conference, and I was asking women there if they had any advice for women in the U.S. about how to advance our gender and our movement. I'll never forget what one of the woman said: that the biggest challenge for women in the U.S. is that, in order to really create change for themselves and to achieve equality, we need solidarity. And when I think about the intersectional nature of the feminist movement, and the fact that we have so many different interests, sometimes that compete with one another, I really do see The Cru as an opportunity for us to come together, not based on a particular public policy or a particular framework, but just in the spirit of helping all of us to create lives that we're passionate about.
"So far, a lot of women on the coasts are applying, and I would love to get some women in the middle of the country, like women in Charlotte, women in Nashville, women in Minneapolis. I just want to make sure that we're being inclusive and that we're not forgetting our sisters in the middle as we build this out. I'm here for them, too!
What advice do you have for women who can't afford the annual fee for how they can they build networks for themselves for free?
"I really encourage women to join Lean In and to potentially start a Lean In Circle. Sally Krawcheck also has a network called Ellevate, and they have a program called Squads that is really helpful. Also, keep in mind that nothing says you can't just curate your own group of women and connect with each other and commit to one another."