Indra Nooyi Has a 3-Point Plan to Advance Women in Leadership

Indra Nooyi at the 2020 Watermark Conference for Women

Imagine what at least one section of Indra Nooyi’s bucket list might look like:

  1. Immigrate to America.
  2. Become CEO of a Fortune 500 company (say, PepsiCo, for example.)
  3. Transform it into one of the world’s most successful food and beverage companies.
  4. Step down after being one of the longest-serving female CEOs. (A dozen years is good.)
  5. Boost the number of women in leadership positions nationwide.

Status report: Done, done, done, done—and just you wait.

During a fascinating conversation with Pat Mitchell (first woman president and CEO at PBS, former president of CNN, co-founder and curator of TED Women) Nooyi explained how she decided to focus on advancing women in leadership after leaving PepsiCo.

“When I stepped down, there was a lot of debate about the dwindling number of women CEOs, and they kept asking me why wouldn’t you replace yourself with a woman,” she said, adding “Why don’t they ever ask that of the men?”

It came with another question that she has heard many times in her career: How did you make it to the C-Suite, stay married and have two children? “They thought I had a playbook,” she said. “But I realized that the playbook I deployed relied a lot on my personal family augmented later in life by the fact that I had money to afford care.”

Realizing that many people don’t have that luxury she took it on to think about how companies, communities and governments can lend the support women deserve. At the 2020 Watermark Conference for Women, Nooyi summed up those key actions this way:

1. Stamp out bias in all its forms from hiring practices to workplace behaviors. “We have to make sure we are evaluating women based on the quality of their work and not on other unrelated qualities,” she said.

2. Make workplaces more family-friendly by providing:

  • Nationally guaranteed, reasonably paid maternal and paternal leave
  • The flexibility to work at home when needed
  • A national network of early childhood care that is widely available, cost-effective and pays child care workers’ wages commensurate with their responsibility.

3. Build a return ramp. “Many parents, mostly women, step out of the workplace for some time to raise families. We want young people to have that choice but we need to make it easier for them to come back,” she said.

Stay tuned for more updates from the conversation between Indra Nooyi and Pat Mitchell in upcoming newsletters.

More from the 2020 Conference

More from the March 2020 Newsletter


What you need to succeed in work and life now.

Smart, timely insights from inspiring women.
Delivered twice monthly to more than 150,000 subscribers.