In an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival Monday, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was asked about whether women can have it all (because what else would a CEO be asked to talk about other than her children?). She gave some very honest answers.
While a lot of people latched on to the fact that she’s not sure her daughters will think she was a good mom, the much more important excerpt is the story she tells of the night she found out she was going to become the president of PepsiCo. Ms. Nooyi:
“Rather than stay and work until midnight which I normally would’ve done because I had so much work to do, I decided to go home and share the good news with my family. 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 o’clock.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you ask him to buy the milk?’ ‘He’s tired.’ OK. We have a couple of help at home, ‘Why didn’t you ask them to get the milk?’ She said, ‘I forgot.’ 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.”
If you want to know why there are not more female executives in the world, this is the story. I doubt that many women get this message so blatantly, but the duty to be the caregiver is implicit in our culture. That message is hammered home in every sitcom, every family movie, every advertisement.
I don’t know how Ms. Nooyi’s daughters feel about her. I do know that if anyone else in her house had gone to go get milk that night, she would have had an extra half-hour to spend with them. Women can’t have it all if they are expected to do it all.
Shane Ferro writes for Reuters.com.