Former PepsiCo CEO Nooyi calls for supporting women in the workplace


Ritu Jha–

Elevating bias, equal pay, subsidized childcare, how and why to sustain women in the workplace, how to be a leader in a boardroom filled with men, mentorship and continuous learning were some of the topics the former PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi spoke about at the Watermark Conference in San Jose, California.

The conference, held at San Jose Convention Center Feb 11-12, is considered one of the largest women’s conferences on the West Coast, where top women executives, emerging executives and entrepreneurs connect, develop and advocate for the advancement of women in the workplace and beyond.

Nooyi, an Indian American born in Madras, (now Chennai) Tamil Nadu, India, led  the increase of PepsiCo’s revenue by 80 percent to more than $63 billion during her tenure.

Former PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi speaks with Pat Mitchell at the Watermark Conference
Former PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi speaks with Pat Mitchell at the Watermark Conference

Known for her leadership, Nooyi – who earned a master’s in Public and Private Management at the Yale School of Management in 1980 and was ranked 2nd on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list in 2015 and 11th on Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful Women list in 2017 – spoke during her Feb 12 speech at the conference and later in  conversations with Pat Mitchell about how things are changing for women, and data show that 45 percent of corporate workers are women but only 11 percent are top earners and only 5 percent are CEOs, despite holding higher degrees.

“If we really want to keep women in workplace, we have to figure out how we institutionally, as a company, community, government give the kind of support, they need,” Nooyi said.

“I realized I had an extended family and many don’t have that,” she said. “Working harder first shift and second and third shift is not good. We have to figure out how to make life easy for millennium family. This will enable people to have family and work. We need the best people to work.”

Nooyi, emphasizing the need to keep women at work, said that the millennial and post-millennial workforce is made up of highly, and often better, qualified women, but they may choose to leave when children are young.

“We should not lose them completely,” Nooyi said, adding that there should be an option to return. “We need subsidized childcare. We need to develop a solution.”

Giving an example, she said the GDP of Quebec, Canada, grew significantly after the childcare program instituted there. She said there is need for high-quality and affordable care for children, so parents can work with peace of mind.

Nooyi, who looked energized as always  — even at age 64, took the complement laughing when Pat Mitchell told her “You are not retired. You are rewired.” Mitchell asked Nooyi about being a successful CEO and a role model who stepped up to a leadership if there were times when she was challenged with making the decision being a woman and how she dealt with that.

Nooyi said, “ It was all the times, because even if they don’t say you can feel that through their body language.”

Nooyi, who holds the distinction of being one of a very small number of female Fortune 100 CEOs, urged women to keep an eye out for others. “When we observe bias, we have to call it out right away. If you don’t, you’re condoning that behavior,” she said.

Adding further the strategy she implemented at the company said, “So what you have to do is create an objective rather than saying about lets change, I would say let us identify and create a 10 buy-in megatrends, that is going to impact. and it was so objective, and once you set the megatrends, probably that drives the strategy and what investment are going to be made.”

Sharing a few tips, Nooyi said women have to be overwhelming confidence and people have to know without you they cannot function.

Be committed to what you are doing and be a lifelong learner, she said. Another important piece of advice she gave to the more than 6,500 women in the room was on mentorship said. “Mentor picks you; you don’t pick mentors. They pick you because they see something in you.”

“They give advice. If you choose not to take it, go tell them with respect… It’s very important maintaining the relationship.”