Thank you Indra Nooyi, President and CEO of PepsiCo, for your refreshingly brutal honesty about the tradeoffs between business leadership and parenting.
“You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt. My observation is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.
and thank you also for being explicit about what “coping” really means:
“You know what? When I’m in PepsiCo I travel a lot, and when my kids were tiny, especially my second one, we had strict rules on playing Nintendo. She’d call the office, and she didn’t care if I was in China, Japan, India, wherever. She’d call the office, the receptionist would pick up the phone, “Can I speak to my mommy?” Everybody knows if somebody says, ‘Can I speak to mommy?’ It’s my daughter. So she’d say, “Yes, Tyra, what can I do for you?”
“I want to play Nintendo.”
So she has a set of questions. “Have you finished your homework?” Etc. I say this because that’s what it takes. She goes through the questions and she says, “Okay, you can play Nintendo half an hour.” Then she leaves me a message. “Tyra called at 5. This is the sequence of questions I went through. I’ve given her permission.” So it’s seamless parenting.”
Thank you also for articulating one of the biggest fears of working parents, especially those who lead:
“We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure.”
And thanks to your mom too for stating the obvious, in a way few Americans are ever willing to do:
“You’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place.”
I’ve read and heard many reactions to her interview, ranging from “why don’t they ever ask these questions to male leaders?!” to “I can’t believe she set up a ‘call center’ for her kid!” to “(sigh) Here we go again….”
I’m taking it personally and feel relieved. Personally, because my husband, John LeMay, worked with Indra when he was at BCG, she was rising, and we were dating. Personally, because years later, these tradeoffs became painfully obvious when we had our own children. Relieved because the first step toward recovery is admitting we have a problem.
We don’t talk honestly and clearly enough about the problem because it feels so threatening and the solutions have been unclear. If “women can’t have it all”, we fear we will go backwards. We worry we will end up barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen rather than in a power suit with Louboutins in the Boardroom. We have worked so hard to get there, even in paltry numbers. We want the choice, even if our power comes down to increasing consumption of sugary sodas and addictive snack foods around the world.
We need to change the conversation and invite everyone in. Women need to stop talking amongst ourselves about how to lean into the current systems, when we have 50 years of evidence showing the current systems do not support real innovation or inclusion. At this point, it’s not about women, really. It’s about children. It’s not about mothers, it’s about parents. It’s not about stewardship. It’s about growing leaders who are not constantly faced with inhuman tradeoffs, so that they retain enough humanity to inspire trust and lead innovation with soul and changemaking. It’s not about stark choices for half of our population, but seamless integration of work and life for everyone. It’s about the entrepreneurship/intrapraneurship required to design a different way to work. It’s about time.
This is a matter of time allocation. It always has been and always will be. Each of us, male or female, rich or poor, has 24 hours in a day. Time is the great equalizer, although women have an edge. In the US, women currently get an average of 80 years, whereas men get 77 years on earth. 3 more years for the ladies (it’s kinda unfair really). In either case, that’s a lot of time.
So why are we all still working as if we retire at 50 and die at 60 (losing 20 years!), forcing gut-wrenching daily choices in the career/childrearing crunch rather than redesigning leadership development with more flexible but real options for women and men alike (e.g., parental leave, co-leadership, remote work driven by performance rather than face-time requirements)? Why do we sit in offices when our technology lets us think/work/connect anywhere, anytime? Why do we sit in meetings all day wasting so much of each others’ time, as if it’s not our only real, precious, and universal resource? When will we realize that growing leaders with empathy DOES grow sales, and that growing children DOES build skills as well as our future?
The first step toward recovery is admitting we have a problem. So, thank you for using your hard-earned megaphone so honestly Indra Nooyi.
Photo and quote are from here.