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Tiffany Dufu: Learning to thrive by letting go

‘Drop the Ball’ author to speak at Simmons Leadership Conference

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Tiffany Dufu: Learning to thrive by letting go
Tiffany Dufu PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CRU

The Simmons Leadership Conference has been convening leaders from across the globe for more than four decades. On March 23, the leadership forum returns for its 42nd year, and its second year as a virtual conference, addressing this year’s theme of resilience and authenticity.

Welcoming remarks will be given at 9 a.m. by Emmy Award-winning journalist Joyce Kulhawik and Susan MacKenty Brady, CEO of the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership, who will serve as the conference co-hosts. Jenna Bush Hager, co-host of  “TODAY with Hoda and Jenna,” and actress, writer and producer Mindy Kaling will deliver keynote addresses.

The conference, which will feature more than a dozen speakers and panelists, is expanding the one-day format for the first time, with a “Signature Session” series in April highlighting one thought leader each Tuesday. Attendees will have access to the four one-hour interactive Signature Sessions on April 6, 13, 20 and 27, from 12 to 1 p.m. The sessions will also be available through video-on-demand for 90 days following the conference.

Tiffany Dufu, a nationally renowned voice in the women’s leadership movement, will conduct the opening session of the conference on March 23 at 9:15 a.m. under the banner of “Inspiring Authenticity: Live Your Story, Discover Your Leadership.” Her remarks will be framed around her book “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less,” which shows women how to cultivate the one skill they most need to thrive — the ability to let go.

Included on Entrepreneur’s 100 Powerful Women list, Dufu has raised nearly $20 million toward the cause of women and girls. She’s held the positions of associate director of development at the Seattle Girls’ School followed by a two-year stint as a major gifts officer at Simmons College, now Simmons University, in Boston. In addition, Dufu was a launch team member to Lean In and was chief leadership officer at Levo, a professional network for millennial women.

Early in her career, Dufu made the decision that her life’s work would be about advancing women and girls. “I think purpose is simply a decision inspired by experience,” the author tells the Banner in a recent phone interview. “The question is, ‘What is the experience that inspired your decision to devote your life’s work with advancing young women and girls?’”

One of Dufu’s most poignant experiences has to do with her relationship with her mom, who found out she was pregnant with her when she was 19 years old. According to Dufu, who was born on an army base in Tacoma, Washington, her mother had the foresight to encourage her dad to join the army. Her mother’s decision made it possible for her parents, who were originally from Los Angeles, to eradicate a vicious cycle of poverty, addiction and violence in one generation, following a fundamental truth: “If you want something you’ve never had before, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before in order to get it,” says Dufu.

One of four daughters, the entrepreneur feels that part of who she is comes from having an amazing mother who gave her daily hugs and would look at her and say, “Tiffany, you’re so smart, you’re so beautiful, you are so loved,” as if it was the first time that she’d ever said it. “I felt that made all the difference for me,” says Dufu.

In 2018, Dufu felt called to create The Cru, a peer coaching platform for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal growth. For years, the founder and CEO had been meeting women every Tuesday and Thursday at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. and offering advice and strategies to help them move forward in their careers. Dufu has had her own crew of peer mentors for over a decade and says that she wouldn’t be where she is without them. She realized there was a great need to create something similar for other women.

“There is so much research that shows that we are most successful at realizing our goals and achieving them when we have accountability to other people,” says Dufu. “Yet, most of us do not have an accountability mechanism for driving our lives forward.” She launched The Cru to great success in several cities nationwide, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

When Covid-19 hit in March of 2020, Dufu was able to attend gatherings virtually for almost the entire month. She discovered that the gatherings, which had been previously held in person, are better virtually, because there’s no commute, everyone is on time and there’s increased engagement. She also noticed that the chat function in the Zoom platform became “this incredible place to include resources, so that the peer coaching sessions were much more about asking questions,” which helped members to achieve clarity.

Dufu is now expanding her operations nationally and matching women by time zones instead of by cities, which allows The Cru to curate more diverse crews.

women’s leadership

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