Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi Says No, Women Can't Have It All

You, the career woman, depart from your high-powered job at 5 p.m. to embrace your shining children and happy husband in your lovely home. You go to bed feeling accomplished, and you wake up satisfied. This is Having It All. It does not exist. That, anyway, is what Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi said about women and careers at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week. Nooyi knows: Not only has she run PepsiCo, a huge food and beverage company with many billions in annual sales, since 2006, but she also has a 34-year marriage with her husband and two daughters. Having it all, right? Wrong.

In an interview, Atlantic Media CEO David Bradley asked Nooyi whether women can have it all, referencing a landmark 2012 story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Slaughter's story — you should read it if you haven't — points out that at a fundamental level, it's extremely difficult to perfectly manage both motherhood and a career. Managing it even imperfectly is terribly challenging.

Nooyi echoed that this week.

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. ... Every day you have to make a decision on whether you’re going to be a wife or a mother. ... You have to co-opt a lot of people to help you.
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Even with that help, Nooyi said, she often fell short. Wednesday morning "class coffee" with mothers and daughters at her kids' Catholic school often went unattended. Nooyi said one of her daughters would come home and list off all the mothers who were there that day, and she said she would "die of guilt." In order to respond — and save her sanity — she began calling the school to find out which other mothers couldn't attend, in order to argue she wasn't the only bad one.

If you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they’ll say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. ... I developed coping mechanisms. ... You have to cope because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt.
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Nooyi, one of the world's most powerful women (both in lists and in reality), has everything she could ever want, when it comes to stuff. But it doesn't mean she can have it all. And that's partly because of the way the business world works and the way it supports mothers, she said.

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. ... And that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you. ... And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging.
So we’re screwed. We cannot have it all.

You can watch all of her comments in the video below — the good stuff starts around minute 22.

The Aspen Institute on YouTube