Former PepsiCo CEO Aims to Create a ‘Sisterhood’ of Women Leaders

September 17, 2019, 12:40 AM UTC

Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi says she doesn’t miss being in charge. Instead, she’s been too busy focusing on paying it forward to the next generation of women by encouraging them to rally around each other and break new barriers together.

“We need our own sisterhood,” said Nooyi, who stepped down as CEO last year. “Unconscious bias can only be addressed if the sisterhood calls it out.”

At Fortune’s MPW International Summit in Toronto on Monday, Nooyi spoke about a new book she plans to release in 2021. It’s her way to pass on everything she learned as a woman of color (she was born in India), a CEO, a mother, a wife, and a daughter. Much of women’s ability to succeed at home and at work depends on existing workplace systems, which are rife with unconscious bias that “attacks women’s confidence.”

“It’s very, very important that we stop talking about unconscious bias, and start doing something about it,” she said. “The onus is not just on the men. It’s on the women.”

Nooyi said her journey was “brutal,” and she hopes her lessons learned will come in handy for the future leaders. Many days, she said she had to fake a smile during her walk into work, or shut the door to her office to take 15 minutes to cry or scream.

“When you’re a female, colored woman, immigrant serving as a CEO of a large company and undertaking a transformation, there are tons of critics,” she said. “All the time you were in the public eye trying to answer the critics. So it was a grind all the time.”

During Nooyi’s time at PepsiCo, she said she constantly thought beyond short-term profit and toward the long-term future of the company. That meant considering things like how the company was reinvesting in its future, improving the healthiness of PepsiCo’s products, and reducing its environmental impact—all things that were important to her, and all things she was criticized for.

“I told them this is where we’re going to invest,” she said referring to PepsiCo investors and fund managers. “They said, ‘You’re not Mother Theresa.’”

But Nooyi said it was important for her to lead with purpose. So that’s what she did, regardless of what anyone else said.

“All CEOs should run the company for the duration of the company, not the duration of the CEO,” she said. “My success should be judged on how well my successor does, not just how well I did.”

When it comes to Nooyi’s future, which includes her writing book and learning how to ballroom dance, she plans to steer clear of politics: “The problem is that today when you go into politics, you are working the political system as opposed to doing the job,” she said. “I’m used to doing the job so it won’t work for me.”

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