Pepsi’s Out-Of-Touch CEO Indra Nooyi Says Working Moms Can’t Have It All

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Indra Nooyi PepsiCo CEO June 2014Earlier this week PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi made some controversial statements during an interview with The Atlantic‘s David Bradley. The interview was unusually forthright for Nooyi, and what it boiled down to was her belief that working moms can’t have it all. In her opinion, career women have to sacrifice aspects of motherhood to have a career, and she does occasionally make some good points. But to be honest I had trouble keeping a straight face for most of the piece because, for the most part, Nooyi comes across as out-of-touch with working moms and humanity in general. She starts out pretty strong:

“…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.”

I definitely have some sympathy. As a working mom I know all to well what Nooyi is talking about. In the best of circumstances, when you have enough finances and a decent support network, being a working parent is hard. And if you don’t have the finances and support? For all us non-CEOs, the scheduling acrobatics of working parenthood alone can be mind-numbing. What is clear from Nooyi’s interview is, even if you’re the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, working parenthood involves some shuffling and stress. And then there is that perennial parenting foe: guilt. Nooyi describes a “class coffee” that her daughter’s school held for parents one morning a week, and how awful she felt that she wasn’t able to make it as often as she wanted to. The guilt is palpable.

“I’ll tell you a story that happened when my daughter went to Catholic school. Every Wednesday morning they had class coffee with the mothers. Class coffee for a working woman—how is it going to work? How am I going to take off 9 o’clock on Wednesday mornings? So I missed most class coffees. 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.”

The whole concept of asking mothers to drop everything each week for a “class coffee” seems silly to me. But this is the point in the interview where Nooyi loses me. Remember those “coping mechanisms” she mentions earlier? Well:

“Do you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train your family to be your extended family. 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.”

In what other profession besides “Corporate CEO” would this work? Can you imagine, as a working woman, trying to “train” your co-workers, or subordinates to deal with your kids? I get that this works for Nooyi. She’s the freaking CEO of Pepsi. But this in no way relates to the average working mom.

Can working moms have it all? Personally, I think the jury is still out. But I wouldn’t take Indra Nooyi’s advice on the subject.

(Photo: Getty Images)