…I think women are held to a different standard from men when it comes to celebrating their professional accomplishments. No matter what we do, we are never quite enough. Getting a promotion or a prize outside the home sometimes seems to mean that either that prize was easy or that we were letting our domestic duties slide, writes Indra Nooyi.
The writer is former chairman-CEO, PepsiCo.Time was the critical currency in my life, and I spent almost all of it on PepsiCo. To succeed among the ideal workers, I had to be one myself.
PepsiCo’s HR department offered work-share programmes for some junior employees, and my first two administrative assistants shared one job. No one else – certainly not at my level – seemed to ask for a reduced schedule, probably because they were nervous about a so-called flexibility stigma.
One other woman rose in PepsiCo’s most senior ranks around this time. Brenda Barnes was named CEO of PepsiCola North America in 1996 after 20 years at the company. She had three kids under 12 and, after less than a year in her new role, she quit. She moved to Chicago, spent eight years at home with her children, and served on boards. She was still a great executive. In 2005, she took over as CEO of Sara Lee.
Brenda’s decision, like that of thousands of talented, ambitious women who’ve stepped out of big companies, made perfect sense. The rules of engagement in corporate leadership were absolutely unforgiving. Compromise to accommodate home life was unthinkable.
Brenda didn’t have the same extended family support I could count on. And, in jobs with relentless travel, we had no technology to really connect with our children’s day-to-day activities from afar. ‘The whole issue boils down to time,’ she told the press in 1997, when she was interviewed about her departure. ‘Hopefully one day, corporate America can battle this.’
Kitchen as Corner Room
But what about leaving my crown behind in the garage? [Referring to Nooyi’s mother’s comment after she was named PepsiCo president in 2001: ‘You may be president of PepsiCo. But when you step into this house, you’re a wife and mother first. Nobody can take that place. So leave that crown in the garage.’]
Honestly, I wasn’t even home enough in my first years as PepsiCo’s president to think too much about how I was handling the relationship between my professional success and my role as a mother, wife and daughter. I certainly didn’t feel very royal, as I hustled from one project to another and made all those trips to Washington. I was just trying to keep up with the tremendous responsibilities of the job in a world with no one else like me….
…I think women are held to a different standard from men when it comes to celebrating their professional accomplishments. No matter what we do, we are never quite enough. Getting a promotion or a prize outside the home sometimes seems to mean that either that prize was easy or that we were letting our domestic duties slide.
This zero-sum game for women when it comes to work or family achievements is pernicious. It’s important for men, in particular, to see that this holds us all back. Why not just let women soar in every part of life? Why not celebrate what we do well when we do it? We all love to see our daughters win sports or spelling contests when they are children. So why do we undercut grown women who succeed on the career playing field by frequently adding commentary on whether they are equally fabulous at home?…
…Female leaders have this much tougher than male leaders because the world of power is designed for men. Women are always breaking ground as they navigate the upper reaches of business, government or finance. We have to demonstrate our gravitas in a world where authority and brilliance, to many people, still look like an older gentleman. And we have to absorb dozens of the simple, little slights that show women are not yet fully embraced.
When I was head of PepsiCo, I once exited a plane in Mexico with a team of guys. We were each greeted by the immigration official: ‘Welcome, Mr X.’ ‘Welcome, Mr Y.’ ‘Welcome, Mr Z.’ ‘Hi, Indra.’…
…I was once on the cover of Greenwich Magazine wearing my favourite Armani jacket that made me feel elegant and comfortable. I thought I looked pretty good. Then a saleswoman at the local Saks Fifth Avenue department store called and suggested that, in the future, I come to them for a more up-to-date look before any important photo shoots. ‘Wearing a jacket from last season,’ she observed, ‘was not OK.’
Women’s voices are too high or too low, or they are seen as too short or too tall, or too fat or too thin, to be great leaders. These judgements wear us down….
…With all the ways that it can be analysed, I also can’t forget who delivered the ‘crown in the garage’ line.
That night in the kitchen, my mother was the same woman she always was – torn between wanting to see her daughter soar in the outside world and making sure I lived up to my role as a dedicated wife who could be content looking after everyone else. When I was a little girl, she asked me to make speeches pretending I was India’s prime minister. She also worried about finding me a husband.
One foot on the accelerator, one foot on the brake.
Go out and capture the crown but leave it in the garage.
This is an edited extract from Indra Nooyi‘s new book, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future