Indra Nooyi: How Even One Of The World’s Most Powerful Women Struggled With Childcare

'There is no work-life balance – call it work-life juggling'

Indra Nooyi

by Hannah Marriott |
Updated on

Earlier this month, after more than 112,000 people signed our petition asking for childcare reform, Grazia’s call for an independent review of the UK’s childcare system reached Westminster. MPs such as Stella Creasy, who attended with her baby, spoke in support of our campaign, run with our parenting platform The Juggle and Pregnant Then Screwed.

‘That’s a campaign people in the UK should back,’ says Indra Nooyi, one of the world’s most powerful female business leaders. Affordable, high-quality childcare is essential, she says, because ‘for a country to be successful and prosper anyone who wants to engage in paid work should have the opportunity to do so.’

Indra, 65, knows a thing or two about juggling parenthood and a career. Her own ascent, detailed in her new memoir, was dizzying. Born in 1955, in Madras (now Chennai), South India, by 2006 she had become the first woman, immigrant and person of colour to run a Fortune 50 company as CEO of PepsiCo.

My Life In Full: Work, Family And Our Future blends tales of White House dinners and activist investors with moments of mum guilt. ‘There is no work-life balance,’ she says. ‘Call it work-life juggling.’ It also explains how her equal partnership of 41 years with husband Raj is at the heart of her accomplishments, and details the patchwork childcare set-ups created over the years, from relying on her mother and other relatives to babysitters and nannies.

Indra wrote the book after being asked ‘by so many women, how did I do it? Can they do it too? Is there a manual? When I joined PepsiCo I was one of 11 female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company. Now there are about 40, out of 500, which is still only about 10%, even though 70% of valedictorians [top-ranking high-school graduates] are female. I kept saying to myself, “Why aren’t all of these brilliant, hardworking, driven women making it to the top in larger numbers?”’

Better care infrastructure is a huge part of this puzzle, she believes – that’s why she has pledged to devote herself to the issue after leaving PepsiCo in 2019. And she has the profile to do so: the opening chapter captures Indra in conversation with Barack Obama, then US President, and Manmohan Singh, then Indian Prime Minister. ‘The time has come to bring those discussions to the centre of the room with people in power,’ she says. ‘Many times, when I was in the room with all of the powerful people, I watched discussions on the future of work, but no discussion about families and how women are a critical part of our future.’

She believes governments and businesses need to consider a ‘trifecta’, of ‘paid leave, flexibility and predictability of work hours and better care infrastructure’. Companies have a role to play, too: in the book, she recounts implementing ‘family friendly’ policies at PepsiCo, including converting one floor of its HQ into a childcare facility. ‘If providing the infrastructure to support women who want to come back to work is not onerous, is not going to take 50 years, why not do it?’ Which sounds like an excellent question to put to your MP on Twitter – just visitTweet Your MP via this linkto join our campaign.

_‘My Life In Full: Work, Family And Our Future’_is out now (£20, Piatkus)

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