Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Can Female Leaders Have it all ?

In the last few days ,  this contentious topic is doing the rounds in all newspapers, tabloids, websites, TV , twitter , facebook etc..   

In a recent interview,  PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has said  "I don't think Women can have it all . We pretend that we have it all. We pretend we can have it all " . 

Then she went ahead and told the following incidents from her life :

" I'll tell you a story that happened when my daughter went to Catholic school. Every Wednesday morning they had class coffee with the mothers. Class coffee for a working woman—how is it going to work? How am I going to take off 9 o'clock on Wednesday mornings? So I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, "You were not there, mom." "

"The evening when I was appointed as the President of the company, I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, "Mom, I've got great news for you." She said, "let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?" I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, "what time did he get home?" She said "8 o'clock." I said, "Why didn't you ask him to buy the milk?" "He's tired." Okay. We have a couple of help at home, "why didn't you ask them to get the milk?" She said, "I forgot." She said just get the milk. We need it for the morning. So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back. "

As a female , I too know these pangs of guilt and anger.  We seethe at the unfairness of it all. As Nooyi has rightly said - the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. 

"Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.  And that's the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you . And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they're aging. So we're screwed. We have no... we cannot have it all ".

Nooyi has touched upon a sore point of the working women.  

Yes,  all the points are true, But have you ever wondered why is it that only Females feel like this ?  Don't you think that the above points are true for the Males too ? Then what is the difference ?  Why does only the Females feel guilty and burdened ? 

The answer is simple.  The females have been conditioned that way. Collectively, unconsciously, it has seeped into the DNA of all the females, all over the world that bringing up your child, looking after your household is the primary duty of the women.  

And this cannot be eradicated in a year or even ten years. It might take a couple of decades  and that too if  the women change their own mindset and in turn change the mindsets of her family. 

  • There should be equal distribution of work in the family and the work should be based upon the aptitude of the partner.  It might happen that the female of the house has a greater aptitude for dealing with external matters like bank, finance and cooking then her husband should help the kids with their studies, other household work etc.  Females themselves should not fall into the trap of stereotyping. 

  • There will be situations when the females will feel guilty. And there will be circumstances when they will be made to feel guilty.  Whenever I am in such a situation , I ask myself  "Why ? "  The same question has to be asked to the husband as well and again to your mother or mother in law or anyone else. No justifications , but simply try not to feel guilty.  The consequence or the situation is not the fault or the responsibility of just the female. Everyone else in that situation is equally responsible and can take action.  When Nooyi found out that there were many mothers who were not present in the school and the next time when her daughter said that Nooyi was not there,  she rallied the names of the mothers who were not there too. These are coping mechanisms .  So, even your daughter can act in a stereotypical mode since she stays in a society and peer pressure and other actions work subconsciously in her mind.  Female leaders have to keep the coping mechanisms going on , persistently, consciously and explaining and discussing about these with her kids so that they too can share her thoughts and feelings. 

  •  I am not against motherhood.  I have a beautiful daughter and she is the apple of my eye and I think children are the greatest source of joy.  But again , if  any female chooses not to start a family, I think she should be given the choice.  A few years after my daughter was born, I was under pressure from my parents as well as in laws to have another kid.  But at that time, my career had just started to shape up.  I was doing well at work.  Having another kid would have put a sudden brake on the ascent.  Because I knew that I will be expected to balance my work as well as my kids.  Somehow , the same is never expected from the fathers.  This change has to be brought in . Nowadays, in India, some progressive organizations give paternity leave of a week. That is not at all enough. The paternity leave should be at least of `12 weeks, just like maternity leave. Again , the father might be wary of snide and subtle remarks about lparenting , since it is considered to be very "female" job.  The organizations should actually glorify the fathers who look after their kids.  

Changing the society, our family and most importantly changing ourselves (females) might take infinite time.  But I am sure that the change will happen.  

We have to keep faith . Female leaders , mothers, managers have to keep on trying, helping other females, their daughters, their sons  to change their mindsets. 

We have to be relentless in our efforts. 

We will win . Finally.  And then we need not "Pretend". 

Female leaders can have it all. 



  1. A very insightful article on a very sensitive issue. I am a proud father of three children who spend more time with me than with their mother. I love taking care of their studies, homework, playing with them etc. Quite often morning breakfast also comes under my activities and I do all this happily because I have not developed any stereotypes regarding different roles in the family. My love for children motivated me to learn cooking also, particularly dishes liked by my daughters. Fathers should come out of any stereotypes and enjoy every moment of their work-- both inside and outside home. Thanks for a very pertinent article.

    1. Great to learn about such a father ! May your tribe increase !

  2. Its not only the girls that are conditioned - boys are too. I've seen neighbours who send out the girl child to buy groceries from the neighbourhood store, not the boy though he is older! I have a daughter who I treat no different than I would a son - we have fisticuffs, tumbles, splashes in the rain...but her mother insists she learn dance and music in preference to swimming and cycling. I would ask you to think about who does the conditioning - even in 'educated' and 'liberated' families...?

    1. Ashish, As you rightly pointed out, the stereotyping and conditioning is being done by almost everybody, consciously or subconsciously. We need to be aware of this and whenever we see such behaviour, within our limited line of control, we can improve the world... Cheers !

  3. Ah! Conditioning! How did Aye not get that?

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