Indra Nooyi’s statements on work life balance went viral with many women refreshed by her candor on the subject, followed by a backlash of people rolling their eyes.

First, I want to say that it is tres irritating that female CEOs get asked about work-life balance and male CEOs never do. Maybe we should start asking male CEOs. Or maybe we should assume, as Nooyi kind of suggests, that CEOs don’t usually have work-life balance and thus, stop asking this question.

That said, Matt Lauer’s interview of the GE CEO Mary Barra was a far more egregious example. Nooyi’s comments on work-life balance were part of a lengthy interview on her vision for Pepsico (in which she makes far more controversial comments which few are talking about because how many people watched the whole interview?*)

Nooyi had told the story of her mom’s unimpressed reaction to her achievement before so she was asked to repeat it. As an interviewer, I can understand the need to bring in some human colour to an interview about company strategy and since she had already spoken about this, it was fair game.

Many people were unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I was unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I think Nooyi also was unimpressed with her mom. In her recounting of the incident, I read a wry acceptance of the older generation being what they are. I also think Nooyi was trying to illustrate that to a CEOs family the CEO is just a family member.

Maybe Nooyi should have refused to get the milk. Maybe she should have insisted her husband get the milk. But on an overwhelming day, maybe she decided she needed the space to calmly deal with her mom’s reaction and she didn’t want a fight, so she got the milk. Her actions seem in line with her modus operandi of doing what she feels is right at the moment and not thinking overly about it later.

This way of doing things is more apparent in the part of the interview about mommy guilt. Her daughter guilt-trips her about not being there for coffee mornings. People have criticized her approach of citing other mothers who were not there. Why didn’t she talk to her daughter about gender equality?

Honestly, I think her method was probably more effective than talking about gender equality, though such a talk was certainly warranted to her daughter and to the school. A blogger in Mumbai once wrote about how her daughter is not satisfied with her husband going to her events because all the other kids have their moms there. Nooyi was acting in real time at a school which had coffee mornings for moms and I suspect her method worked better with her daughter.

For me, it was not her exact actions that I liked but her approach which is non-apologetic. I can’t go. I refuse to agonise and beat myself up over it.

Now, about mommy guilt. Some have suggested that women should be over this by now. And I suppose, if we’re not over it, we better hush up because mentioning it only legitimizes it.

The thing though is that mommy guilt is a thing. To a greater or lesser extent. Even a feminist like moi is not immune. Maybe it’s because we were still socialized in an environment where women were primarily responsible for childcare. Maybe because gender roles have remained largely unchanged and in the communities that some of us live in, we are still pioneers in this. Maybe because women are socialized to be or just are more introspective and sensitive. I have noticed that daddy guilt is not much apparent and the reasons for it are more complicated than women just not being able to get over it already.

Maybe a little guilt is a good thing. An older and wiser commenter once said this to me when I wrote about the subject. Guilt keeps us in check. The trick is not to get over the guilt but to know when to suppress it and when to pay it heed. Nooyi’s example was her way of in her words “coping.”

What I liked best about the interview was her candor about “the list”.

You know, Raj always said, you know what, your list is PepsioCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me. There are two ways to look at it. (laughing) You should be happy you’re on the list. So don’t complain. (laughing) He is on the list. He is very much on the list. But you know, (laughing) sorry, David.

I’m sure the haters will hate. Hawww what a person, how can she put PepsiCo first and her family after. But that’s who she is. Maybe that’s who you need to be a CEO. You need to be the kind of person that is obsessed with the company. I think there are some people like that and they are very difficult people to be married to or parented by. But they are who they are and in the past, only men were allowed to be those people (remember Gandhi?). And one way to look at that would be to guilt-trip all those people into choosing one or the other. Or maybe, as long as they are not horrendous but just not ideal, we can accept them if they are acceptable to us (and by us, I mean as a family member.)

Oh, I forgot about having it all. She was asked whether “women can have it all” and she said no. Many people believe she should have said “no one can have it all.” Agreed. But I also think the pressure to have it all applies more to women (see my thoughts on ‘guilt’ above). In recent times, the mommy guilt trope has morphed into the ‘have it all’ trope. Just like we are bombarded by images of women with perfect bodies (and men are only just being subjected to this pressure), we are now bombarded with women who have it all, ‘real’ women and in the movies and in literature and in the media (and men don’t have a similar pressure to ‘have it all’). So while we can say, oh blah, don’t buy into that, the message is insidious and everywhere and sometimes it’s good for someone with a loudspeaker to do a specific takedown. Which Nooyi did.

That’s my thoughts.

*V and I attempted to watch the whole interview but then V found some of her other statements on health foods too annoying and I was too sleepy to listen to someone talk about how to create value for shareholders so we switched off.

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