Gender Equity

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi: ‘I Don’t Think Women Can Have It All Either’

July 1, 2014  • Mauro Whiteman, Aspen Institute College Journalism Scholar

Before PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi took the stage with Atlantic Media Chairman and Owner David G. Bradley, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sent a text to say Nooyi has done a marvelous job of “leaning in.” But for Nooyi — a mother, wife, and CEO of PepsiCo — the reality is simple: “I don’t think women can have it all,” she said. “We pretend we can have it all.”

“The career clock and the biological clock are in total conflict with each other, and the guilt can kill you,” she continued. “However, if you develop mechanisms for dealing with that conflict, you can minimize that guilt.” Nooyi told a story about her daughter’s school hosting weekly morning events with mothers. “I missed most class coffees and my daughter would come home and say this mother was there and this mother was there. The first few times, I’d die with guilt,” she confided. “Then I called the school to find out which other mothers weren’t there and I told her that list.”

“Being a stay-at-home mother is a full-time job. Being a CEO is three jobs in one,” Nooyi said. “How can you do justice to all of them?”

Nooyi’s leadership at PepsiCo has not been without its own conflict. As healthy food consumption was beginning to rise, Nooyi decided to take the company in a new direction of greater nutrition. Many shareholders were upset about the loss of short-term returns in favor of long-term sustainability, but Nooyi said that she had to do what’s right. With that, she led the largest transformation of the company ever.

“Invest responsibly in transformation when the world demands transformation,” she said of her decision.

Another landmark shift at PepsiCo came when Nooyi surveyed its employees to find out what would make them tick. She found that every one of them was searching for a purpose. Nooyi decided to make PepsiCo a company devoted to “performance with purpose” and shift the mindset of the leadership: “the fundamental difference is about how we make the money not how we spend the money we make.”

Nooyi said PepsiCo could have started a foundation or a charity, but she feels that approach to corporate social responsibility is akin to “going to confession after making a mistake.” Instead, she said, the company itself has to perform — returning strong dividends consistently — while providing its employees with a feeling of purpose by focusing on nutrition, environmentalism, and the environment in which they work.