Tiffany Shlain Talks Character Day, Mompreneurship And A Life in Tech


Each year, Tiffany Shlain, Emmy nominated filmmaker, speaker and Webby Awards founder, hosts the annual global event called Character Day. The next big event is coming up on Wednesday, September 26th. Tiffany joined me for my inaugural podcast to talk about her amazing career, Tech Shabbats and life as a working mom.

Some interview highlights:

First film that became a global phenomenon

I was running the Webby Awards and the younger George W. Bush became president and the first thing he did was take away international family planning funding. It was the first time as an adult that I got angry because of something a politician did, so I approached Planned Parenthood and created “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and combined it with web action tools. That got into Sundance and that was this lightbulb moment for me where I realized I want to be a mom, I want to make movies again, because that’s what I did before the Webby’s, combine with everything I learned from the web.

Elevator pitch for Character Day

Character Day is a global day of films, discussion and action where everyone around the world for one day is going to talk about the latest research and ideas about developing one’s character. So neuroscience and social science research on meaning, purpose, empathy, courage, social responsibility, everything that make up one’s character. It’s on September 26 and it’s all free. Last year we had 133,000 groups sign up to host an event. There’s a lot of issues around character that come up in the news all the time and it would be really good to just talk about what does that mean today, what did it mean 3,000 years ago for the Greeks, and what’s the latest research and the positive effects of things like practicing gratitude or how to build the empathy muscle.

Character in our current political climate

Character Day no matter where you stand politically or what religion you are, there are fundamental ideas that are the building blocks of a good society about what we believe is kind, what is good, what you should work on, what is a meaningful life, how do you contribute to society. We looked at ideas around meaning and purpose and living a life that matters from all these different philosophies and they really come down to the same things. So it’s good to remember those as divisive as our world seems right now.

Life as a working mom

I’m a working mom. I run a non-profit, Let It Ripple, I have a for profit, The Moxie Institute which I do for profit films for and my speaking through that. As I get older, I want to figure out how can I make more impact and work less? I don’t want to work more, I want to work smarter and have things go further.

What kind of person are you and what do you want to be in the world?

At my core, daughter, wife, mother (in that order, because that’s how I came into the world) friend and engaged with my community and I think if you look at all my 28 films are at their core are striving to be the best versions of ourselves as humans. We’re all works in progress. I love the idea of a life long learner and there’s always ways that you can push yourself and cultivate yourself for the greater good. Some of my films they wrestle a lot with technology, the good, the bad and the potential. But I want to keep helping to push for more gender equitable world.

Tech Shabbat

One of the best things I think we’ve done as parents is we do not use our technology from Friday night to Saturday night. And we call it our Tech Shabbats. Society feels like it’s spinning out of control with the technology. Every Friday night we have people over for Shabbat. All the screens go off and on Saturday we read, we do art and we’re just together as a family and then we go back on Saturday night. It gives perspective and time to be grateful and be in the moment which current society is lacking.

A Life in Tech

Technology is us. It is an extension of who we are. We created it. I think people talk about it too much like its this other thing that’s happened to us. But it’s us and we have control, we have agency and people have to remember that. These tools are amazing. They can amplify so many things, your brain, these global days, but there are so many things it should not be used for.

Raising your daughters as feminists

I think 90% of parenting is modeling behavior. Our girls know both our careers are important. At our shabbat table, every Friday night we have people over and they are at the table. We always have one discussion, there’s no separate kid discussion and parent discussion, the whole shabbat dinner and they feel very comfortable having a seat at the table.

Optimisticism and Skeptamasist

Well, I’m concerned. I do believe progress is two steps forward, one step back and that’s how progress works if you look throughout history. I felt like we were on this precipice of a whole new era and look at where we are now. I’m optimistic with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Women’s paths in the future

I think such a beautiful result of the Woman’s March is the record number of women running than ever in history. There’s a program called Emerge that trains women running. I’ve been asked to run and I did some thinking and I came to that’s not where my super powers are but I love this surge of women running.

Sometimes it takes a unified enemy to really push people to this next level maybe this is the next level. For me, it’s redefining what it means to be a politician or a CEO. I don’t want to be working 24/7 and not be with my kids. You get that critical mass of women in politics and CEO’s then you’re going to finally going to start to see the infrastructure shift which is that to be a successful CEO doesn’t mean that your on a plane all the time. Or be a politician doesn’t mean you’re going to be away from your kids all the time because that doesn’t work for me or a lot of women so we need to change the whole infrastructure.

New at this years Character Day

Something new we did from 50/50 day is we lined up the most exciting events. The coolest events live so you really get a sense of the globalness of the day and what is happening. Character Day is a hard thing to get your arms around. It’s like wow there’s so many events happening in so many countries but when you start seeing people and their events on screen next to a great speaker it really shape and shows you the power of this many people coming together. Great speaker shows you and share. It’s fun to see people all over the world come together over these universal ideas.