Indra Nooyi is one of the world's 100 most influential people. Time Magazine has described her as a “world class leader.”
Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the soft drink CEO said that women “cannot have it all” and that “the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with one another. Total and complete conflict.”
She outlines a very honest (“erlekh”) description of what it is like being a mother and a CEO of a multi-national company. Her comments come as a surprise. She seemed totally relaxed as she discussed “yeder eyner” (everyone) from her family (“mishhpokhe”) members to her husband and receptionist.
She said that having a successful career and children is an exercise in hard choices, compromise, depending on other people, and coming up with coping mechanisms.
“I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend (“farhitn”) we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years and we have two daughters. Every day you have to make a decision (“bashlus”) of whether you're going to be a wife or a mother--in fact many times a day during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent (“laytish”) 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, and I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.”
She continues: “When you have kids you have to build your career. Just when you're rising to middle management, your kids need you because they're teenagers (“tsenerlingn”/”tsenerling”)--they need you for the teenage years. And that's the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you...Your parents need you because they're aging. So we're screwed, we have no hope (“hofenung”), we cannot have it all (“alts”). So you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train people at work. Train your family.”
So what coping mechanisms did Nooyi use?
Nooyi says that there are consequences to the juggling. “Stay-at-home mothering was a full-time job. Being a CEO of a company is THREE full-time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can't. The person that hurts the most with this whole thing is your spouse.”
“Raj (her husband) says to her, ‘Your list is PepsiCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me.”
“That's one way to look at it,” Nooyi jokes. The other is that her husband should be happy to be on the list.
Is there any truth to the proverb, “A shlekhte mame iz nito”--There is no such thing as a bad mother?
Nooyi's struggle reminds me of the life of Golda Meir, the beloved Prime Minister of Israel. Golda was a remarkable woman. She was highly articulate and spoke in Hebrew, English and Yiddish. Her life was interwoven with the creation of Israel. She was faced with being the protector of Israel and as a mother who hated war.
She said, “It isn't important to decide when you are very young just exactly what you want to become when you grow up. It is much more important to decide on the WAY you want to live. If you're going to be honest with your friends, if you're going to get involved in causes which are good for others, not only for ourselves, then it seems to me that it is sufficient, and maybe what you will be is only a matter of chance.”
Golda married Morris Myerson in 1917. Morris, also an immigrant from Russia, was different from the other young men she dated. He was not particularly interested in politics or “causes.” He enjoyed music, poetry, and painting. His occupation: a sign painter.
Golda's husband, Morris, and two children, Menachem and Sarah, paid a high “prayz” (price) for her success. Perhaps the most telling glimpse into what they both felt was how vividly they remember the excitement they experienced when Golda was felled by one of her regular migraines. “Even though she was sick, we were happy just to have her home,” Sarah recalled.
Golda was away so much that the children, left with a family they hardly knew, were on her the moment she walked through the door. “Sometimes weeks would pass and we didn't see each other,” recalled Sarah. “My brother suffered a great deal from this. He quarreled with Mother and tried to stop her from leaving the house. I also felt lonely (“elnt”) without her.”
One night Sarah asked Golda what she did on her long trips. “I go to meetings and talk to people,” Golda answered. “So why can't you stay home and talk to me?” Sarah responded wistfully.
On July 30, 1937, Golda sent a postcard to her family:
My Dearest Ones:
We have been having meetings for two days already and discussing the issues of the Congress. I found five letters from you here. It was wonderful. I was so glad that Menahem went to camp and hope that all went well. Write me and tell me what you are doing during the holidays. I was very happy with your grades at school and in your music studies. I also think that you, Menahem, should study painting, but we must find a good teacher. Ask someone who knows. Sarah, what did you do when Menahem was away? Morris, I'l write you soon. Be well.
And on Aug. 12, 1937, Sarah wrote to her mom, who was in Tel Aviv:
How are you? We're fine. We'll see each other in about two more weeks...Tomorrow Menahem and I will go to Herzliah to spend Saturday with grandma and grandpa...There was an article in the newspaper about you, saying that you spoke up very strongly against partitioning the country. Good for you. Menahem says that Dr. Weizmann doesn't have any sense because he favors partition..
Menahem Meir recalls when his mother travelled, twice to England and once to the United States. He wrote, “We felt forlorn, watching her fold her clothes neatly into those large, inelegant suitcases that were part of my childhood landscape, and seeing her off, blowing kisses and calling out last-minute instructions and promises until the boat or train that took her away disappeared entirely. True, there were always letters (however slowly they arrived) which father read to us and helped us to answer...”
Golda's old friend, Regina, put it bluntly: “She certainly never should have had children.”
Golda's schedule was brutal. “What I need is a wife,” she told Menahem one day. Bluma, her mother, on whom she depended for child care, criticized her constantly about her smoking, about the children, about her clothes.
She died with a photograph of Morris still on the table at her bedside,
although he'd left her more than three decades earlier after finally admitting
that he would never come “ershter” (first) in his life.
(Sources: “Golda” by Elinor Burkett and “My Mother Golda Meir” by Menachem Meir)
MARJORIE WOLFE'S FAVORITE QUOTES:
“A story once went the rounds of Israel to the effect that Ben-Gurion described me as ‘the only man' in his cabinet. What amused me about it is that he (or whomever invented the story) thought that this was the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman. I very much doubt that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in the government.”
“Success isn't money, prestige or power because net worth can never
define self-worth. True success is being happy with yourself, is being
fulfilled. And that comes from devoting your time, your life, to doing what
you love the most.”
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