David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic, recently interviewed PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and she gave some frank answers to his questions about ‘having it all’ that coincide more with Anne-Marie Slaughter than Sheryl Sandberg. As in, work/life balance? At the c-suite level, there isn’t any. “You know, stay-at-home mothering was a full-time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full-time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can’t,” Nooyi said.
Interestingly, Anne-Marie Slaughter herself was in the audience at the time, and Nooyi said she was a big fan of her Atlantic piece, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. In it, Slaughter talks about her decision to pull back from a high-powered career in Washington, D.C. to return to Princeton University to teach and spend more time with her family. Slaughter believes that it isn’t a lack of ambition that holds women back, but a lack of workplace policies that could make work more balanced for everyone, not just employees with children.
Nooyi sums up the conflicts that so many women are facing today.
…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, they need you for the teenage years. And that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you (laughing). They need you too. What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging. So we’re screwed. We have no… we cannot have it all.
Nooyi shares some universal motherhood guilt stories about missing mother coffee sessions at her daughter’s school, when her daughter would tell Nooyi about all the other mothers that were there. Because the coffees were at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, she could rarely attend.
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.’
You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt.
How does Nooyi cope? Nooyi, Sandberg and Slaughter all credit their spouses with playing a big part in their respective family dynamics, and Nooyi advocates getting help from [extended] family and even people in the office. When Nooyi was traveling, her receptionist would field calls from her younger daughter and, after asking the requisite questions, was able to give her permission to play Nintendo per Nooyi’s rules. “So it’s seamless parenting. But if you don’t do that, I’m serious, if you don’t develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work,” Nooyi said.
Despite their success at work and the impact they are having on many lives, all three women express reservations about missing time with their children and the impact it has on them. Travel demands and long hours were the most serious culprits. “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,” Nooyi said.
So how do you balance work and life? Widespread flexible workplace policies don’t seem to be going into effect, although some claim increased employee loyalty and productivity due to instituting such policies. So most employees still face the daily conflict of how to manage both work and a fulfilling life outside work, while many workplaces seem to still value office face time and long hours. Will things ever change? The work/life balance debate continues on.
Image credit: Penn State. Flickr creative commons license.