PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi shares how she manages work-life balance and why she believes women can’t really have it all.
“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all,” she said to Atlantic Media Company’s David Bradley at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. 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 I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.”
Nooyi candidly said, “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.”
As an example, Nooyi explained she had to usually skip a Wednesday morning class coffee with other mothers at her daughter’s Catholic school.
My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, “You were not there, mom.”
The first few times, I would die with guilt. But I developed coping mechanisms. I called the school and I said, “Give me a list of mothers that are not there.” So when she came home in the evening she said, “You were not there, you were not there.”
And I said, “Ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn’t there, Mrs. So-and-so wasn’t there. So I’m not the only bad mother.”
In addition to discussing parenting, Nooyi also relayed an anecdote about her own mother. When Nooyi found out she would be named president of PepsiCo in, she says she headed home early — at 10 p.m., instead of midnight — to share the news.
I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, “Mom, I’ve got great news for you.” She said, “Let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?”
I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, “What time did he get home?” She said, “8:00.” I said, “Why didn’t you ask him to buy the milk?” “He’s tired.” […] She said, just get the milk. We need it for the morning. So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back.
I banged it on the counter and I said, “I had great news for you. I’ve just been told that I’m going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?”
And she said to me, “Let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the Board of Directors. But when you enter this house, 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. So leave that damned crown in the garage and don’t bring it into the house.”
“You know I’ve never seen that crown.”