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Indra Nooyi at the Women of the Future Summit

3 Mins

Indra’s focus was on "woman, singular" and the conflicts that arise in being a woman today.

"Women want to be mothers. This," she says, "is the still point. But they are needed in the workforce in ever greater numbers.

"Many women want to be in two places at the same time. In private life, this dilemma causes agonies. Either way involves a sacrifice."

But, she notes: "The existence of the dilemma is a mark of progress."

The biological and career clocks, she continues, tick at the same time. "A generation has struggled with the have-it-all promise; they have worked two shifts – one at work and at home."

She quotes Robert Frost’s favourite poem about the two roads in the forest and choosing destinies.

She outlines three aspects.

What can women do to help each other?

There is a temptation to take gender out of the equation, she observes, but that can’t be done when there are pay inequalities. She makes the point forcibly that in other parts of the world there are deep injustices where the vote, maternity pay and equal pay are the stuff of fiction. "If women do not create awareness of women’s issues around the world, who will?"

But women can’t do everything. So, she moves on, what is expected of a good company?

She then talks about what PepsiCo is doing, from furthering the Millennium development goals to the benefits of maternity leave, sabbaticals, the phasing in of working hours, working one day a week from home. She says that some employees return to work after the first, second and even third child.

Providing these facilities, she adds, "is not a drag on our commercial success. Otherwise, you get burn-out and stress if you are work-centric."

A good company, she says, lets you "bring your whole self to work. Feeling stretched is not a dereliction of duty."

She is clear that there are trade-offs. "We have to recognise that exercising our rights imposes burdens on others, including other women." Little can be achieved if "we are just women demanding perfection. Even the very best company can only do so much."

The third part of her speech is about public policy, and how it take the sting out these issues. She acknowledges the "difficult balance between entrepreneurial society and the needs of home".

It’s a classic bit of speech craft, carefully modulated and with lots of personal references as well as talking about Pepsi. It gets a very warm reception.

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