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Indra Nooyi calls for “moonshot” fix to ease work-family stress

September 28, 2021 14:30 PM UTC
- Updated September 28, 2021 14:37 PM UTC

Former Pepsico CEO’s memoir says a “care ecosystem” will propel more women to the C-Suite.

Indra is wonderful to see you and to talk about your book my life in full. I really enjoyed reading it. It's a great read. But as I was reading it, I thought this is a different kind of ceo book. Uh Yes, you, you tell the story of your childhood in India. You talk about your remarkable rise in the corporate world here in the US and ultimately becoming the first female Ceo of Pepsico. But by describing your personal experiences and your struggles, you call attention to an important business problem. You call it work and family conundrum. Tell our viewers what you mean by that and why it concerns you so much. So the first of all, thank you for having me on your show. Let me start off by saying that everywhere I went when I was Ceo. And even since I've retired from being Ceo, um there's one question that keeps getting asked of me whenever I'm in a group can be the group of men and women. Just women. It can be in business schools, that could be in factories. There's always, how do you do it? How do you balance work and family? They used the word balance, how do you balance it to, how can we do it? They ask, how can we get to positions of power? We want to, there's a corporate leader. I looked at it and I said, my goodness, look at the talent falls. First of all the populations have men have women. But if I look at the college graduates, women are graduating 10 points higher than men. We'll get the top grade. They are now being over representative in Stem disciplines. They're getting more engineering degrees to Mitt is 47% women. So I look at all this and go, oh my God, we have such a fantastic talent pool and women at a point when the country needs the best and the brightest to contribute to the economy. Yet those very people are asking me, how can we do it? So there must be something that's causing them incredible angst. And if you dig deeper, what you realize is that many of them want to be in the paid workforce, they want to contribute at the same time, they also want to have families and they're finding it very, very hard to balance to you say that unless we solve this disconnect between the demands of work and the needs at home that um, it's going to really impact the success of the american economy and our competitive advantage. I mean, the problem is so important that you say we should treat it like quote a Moonshot. What would you like to see happen? I think there's a trifecta of things that we have to work on first as paid leave. We just have to make sure that we give, you know, people paid leave either to take care of Children when they're born or if you have somebody who is ill in the family. I know I benefited from paid leave myself. The second is flexibility, predictability and workers. You know, the one thing was about the pandemic technology advanced quite a bit and it allowed more flexible working locations and hours to be possible. But I think the third most important part of this trifecta is a child care system, whether you work hybrid or flexibly. And if you have kids, you do need some sort of a care infrastructure to help out, you know those days that you have to go into work or you have too much to do these three imbalance is what we need to support young family builders. Well, you showed us in your book, how you pulled it off a difficult situation. You are, your whole book is remarkably honest and candid about, you know, all of the roadblocks that you confronted as a woman of color trying to make it in the workplace and you know, all the sacrifices that you made in your career. But despite all of that, you managed to become one of the elite female Ceos in the Fortune 500 year after year, you've been ranked on our fortune list of the most powerful women in business. And on a personal side, you managed to create a successful marriage and you created wholesome family life uh, for your daughter's, What do you want Ceos and business leaders, Men and women. Um, to learn from your story. Well, I had a little bit of a luck of the draw because I grew up in a very tight family system and and a value system which were multi generation living was common uh And you know that's how families live together. You know multiple generations of grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts and everybody helped each other out. Um I was helped by that multi generational care system because my mother and my in laws all helped out taking care of my Children. Many many people don't have that capability. They don't have families to support them and they don't have the ability to hire their own private childcare workers. So it is very very important. We think about how to provide them to support structure. So what is your advice to women who want to D. C. E. O. And also have a healthy family life. First of all recognize that being a ceo three full time jobs rolled into one. Uh And being a mom, a wife, uh wife or husband, a parent is all full time jobs. Each one of them make sure you have a great spouse, a wonderful spouse makes all the difference. Especially the spouses committed to equality in the marriage. And both. You know partners are working towards The nurturing of the family. We do. That is half the battle one. And then you've got to put put aside your perfection jean. You know all of us are born with uh this perfection gene that raises its ugly head now and then and says but you're not so perfect during A. Or B. O. C. And I had it in my consciousness all the time? Uh And this perfection jean kind of what they eat eat at you nothing you do Seems good enough. Uh And uh you know if you don't go to work you say oh my God I could have worked, I could have ascended in my career. If you go to work you say oh my God who is taking care of my kids. I put aside all the guilt five years ago. I wish I'd put it aside long long long time ago. So do you think that this covid pandemic has changed the thinking about the serious issues of work and family pressures and the need that we have to fix this together? I think we're talking about it more. I just don't know if there's a real commitment to fixing it. And that's my concern because I think in during this pandemic More women left the workforce than ever before. Over two million women left the workforce. And a bulk of the women who left the workforce left because they didn't have child care and they couldn't deal with all the stresses and strains of trying to juggle it all. You know I've been interviewing so many ceos about the future of the workplace in this new post pandemic world that we're in. And they're talking a lot more about the importance of well being and empathy? Do you see this as the beginning of changes to come? Are are you encouraged by it? Forget the words well being an empathy. Go down just saying we want to talk about families and women. Let's just talk about what matters because we talk about well being and empathy. It feels like it a lot. I wanted to get down to the core. We need to figure out how to allow family builders to build and nurture families. And we need to talk about how to reduce the stress on women and bring into our workforce some of the best and brightest people who happen to be women. So our companies and our communities and our governments can do even better than we are doing today. It sounds like you would welcome a leadership role in fixing this problem. You could be the change agent. I'm a corporate leader. I'm not very good at working through bureaucracy and working through the political system. I think we ought to bring one of those outstanding leaders who knows how to make it happen, put them in charge of, you know, developing the scared infrastructure and let it rip. And people like me can help can contribute our time and energy, but I think we've got to get the right leader you say in your book, there was only one thing about leaving Pepsico that quote nagged at me. Uh It was criticism that you didn't choose a woman to be your successor as ceo and you were especially bothered by a headline in the new york times when a female Ceo leave the glass ceiling is restored. We know you are a big believer of getting more women top jobs as Ceos. Why not at Pepsico first of all? Why don't they ask the question of men? You know, less than 10% of fortune, 500 ceos of women. They ask women ceos, why don't you get replaced by a woman? But they don't ask the 91% of men. Why don't you have a woman to replace you? But let's leave that aside. I'm a big believer in the best talent and a lot of the best talent happens to be women. So I'm a big believer in developing them. We did develop a lot of women who could have been Ceos, they just left a little bit earlier to go run other companies. He did run big parts of other companies that run other companies and the client in the last two levels to become Ceo Pepsico becomes particularly hard and many women opted not to do that. Um, so I feel very good about the fact that I produced for the corporate world. Many, many, many women leaders who are going on to do fantastic things. I feel great. I wish we had room for multiple women Ceos within Pepsico? We don't, so indra, how do you want to be remembered. How do you want people to describe your legacy? If you could take the words performance with purpose which we apply to technical and transferred to me as an individual. I want to be viewed as somebody who delivered performance in anything I touched in whatever way you want to define it. But but I did it with a deep sense of purpose. How do we change society for the better? So that years from now, people look back and say thank God for corporate leaders like ingenuity that laid the foundation for a better future for all young family builders and women for decades after.