After continuously being asked by women how she 'does it all', Tiffany Dufu is urging women to challenge gender norms at home as well as work

Tiffany Dufu’s first day back at work after her maternity leave and giving birth to her first child ended with her tearfully slouched over toilet in a blouse drenched in her own breast milk.

She had tried to cram the pressures of returning to work and being a new mother into a stressed six-hour period – which meant she forgot to pump her breasts between the back-to-back meetings and email catch ups.

As she writes in her new book Drop The Ball: “My breasts had exploded, and my vision of a future in which I gracefully managed both career and home had been obliterated.”

A slow and steady period of ‘figuring it out’ succeeded before Dufu concluded that she just could not do it all, at least in the way society expected. Women have been told they can have it all outwardly but then subtly they are consistently told, through family models and advertising, their primary role is to be a wife and mother, she says.

“We’re told, ‘It is fine for you to conquer the world and be a powerful executive but everything still has to be managed beautifully on the home front – if it is not then you’re a failure in one way or the other’. The truth is that is impossible,” she told The Independent.

Dufu believes at some point in women’s lives it hits them that it is impossible to both be successful professionally and perform "flawlessly" at home. But when this happens it does not mean women are the failure, and, through her new book, she is striving to make women understand it is society’s expectations of women which are in fact flawed.

Dufu, who now has a day job as chief leadership officer of Levo – a technology platform for professional women – while also being a renowned public speaker, writer and board member of several non-profit organisations supporting young women, realised that while she was advancing for the rights of women on a public platform, she was harbouring “dirty feminist secrets”. Namely, that, at home, she had not been challenging the gender inbalance.

tiffany-dufu.jpg
Tiffany Dufu (Elizabeth Lippman)

 

“I was on Stepford Wife auto pilot,” she explains. “There was always this disconnect that I hadn’t come to terms with, because as modern, empowered women, we don’t want to admit we are not in the driving seat of our own lives and we have succumbed to gender norms.”

Dufu says for the first eight years of her marriage to her college sweetheart Kojo the household responsibilities “fell along traditional gender lines”. She cooked, cleaned, washed and moved around the country as her husband’s job changed. But after having her baby, and experiencing that particularly soul-destroying first day back at work, she realised she was begining to resent Kojo.

This continued for a long period until Dufu decided to drop the ball at home, let up a lot of the micro-managing she had been doing, and call on her husband for his help in their domestic life as well as their financial life. This involved extending practises from her job into her home life. So, as she had assigned her juniors tasks at work, she later divvied up chores like cleaning the bathroom sink and vacuuming between herself and Kojo – who was more than happy to come on board and the two of them created what they dubbed a ‘Management Excel List (MEL)’.

While she devotes her book and activism to women, she also thinks men need to drop the ball too. Their ball is the “unrealistic expectation that men should strive to be breadwinners at all costs” even at the cost of meaningfully engaging with their family and supporting the women in their lives, Dufu says.

In the book, she tells the story about when Kojo worked abroad in Dubai and was trying to get a job in the US partly because he missed his family. However, when he explained that he wanted to return to the US to prospective employers and peers he said it was because his wife was “nagging” him. When Dufu confronted him about it, he responded: ‘Am I supposed to tell people I miss my family? That I want to take my kids to school? That I’m tired of my toddler thinking I live in a screen through Facetime? I can’t say that.’”

 

“It is a very difficult ball for men because they are not allowed to express their commitment to their family at a way that does not jeopardise their manhood… Women are allowed to use our families as a justification to why we make decisions in our careers but men are not,” she says.

Dufu decided to cultivate all her realisations about dropping the ball in a book when she noticed a pattern after all her public speaking engagements. After speaking up for the rights of women and girls on important topics like equal pay, affordable childcare and flexible working hours it would almost always end with personal questions by women in the audience, the most common one being: “How do you do it all?” She would respond time and time again with the same reply: ‘I expect far less from myself and more from my husband than the average woman.’

“The woman [the audience] were seeing on stage was a very evolved woman – the new and improved Tiffany – after I had gone through my own struggle with figuring out how I was going to be successful in life… I’m able to have it all because I don’t do it all,” she explains.

That is the ultimate takeaway from Dufu’s book: Women can successfully flourish at work and in their personal lives, whatever this may entail, but in order to do so “we have to drop unrealistic expectation of doing it all”. 

Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu, published by Penguin Life at £14.99, is out now.

Comments