Indra Nooyi knows how hard life is for working moms. As the CEO of Pepsi, a position she held for 12 years, and in her time at the company before taking on that role, she had to make accommodations to raise her two kids. She would let them come to the office after 5 pm; she lived just a 15-minute drive from home so that, if her kids were sick, she’d be able to run home every few hours and check on them. She needed to do these things even though she had a supportive co-parent and reliable childcare.
Recalling all this during an appearance at the annual Women in the World summit in New York City on April 12, Nooyi suggested such balancing acts are not sustainable in an economy that depends on women.
Women need to be in the economy, she said—they are earning college degrees and high grades at rates above their male peers. But we also need women to have enough babies to reach the population replacement rate (that’s 2.1 children per woman—which the US is currently below, at 1.7 children per woman). “We can’t expect you to have those kids if we don’t give you the support system,” Nooyi said. What we need, she suggested, are systemic solutions—with companies, countries, families, and societies coming up with sensible policy options—to make the balance more manageable. Said Nooyi:
“There are a lot of books written saying, ‘Women, you can do it, you can create your own help system, you can create your own checklists… But it’s your problem—the family’s problem, or the woman’s problem. Then there are a bunch of books about, ‘Oh, what a dreadful problem we have on our hands.’ Then there’s a bunch that say, ‘Yes there are solutions, but they cost too much money and we can’t afford them.’ At some point we’re going to have to bring the three together and say, ‘Look, this problem is not a point problem or a point solution. It’s a complex problem with a series of solutions that require a bunch of people to come together and address it in a sensible way.'”
Childcare workers aren’t paid enough, she said, and it’s going to lead to a massive shortage of care workers. “If we don’t solve it, we’re going to have a big problem,” Nooyi said—a shortage to the tune of 1 million caregivers. We already don’t have enough care workers for the baby boomers, 10,000 of whom are retiring every day in the US alone. Millennials, themselves a sizable generation, are going to have to care for young children and aging parents at some point soon. We’re headed for a collision.
We need to take action, she said, and quickly—ideally in the next 24 to 36 months. And that’s exactly what Nooyi plans to do. No, she has no plans to run for office. Rather, she wants to put all the right experts in the room to come up with policies that work. “I want to bring people together to write something about it,” she said. “We need a set of equations so we can see both sides clearly and figure out how to make it work.”
Meanwhile, Nooyi is heartened at the new wave of childcare bills being proposed in the US Congress, and glad to see that paid family leave is part of the platform for several US presidential hopefuls. But that’s not enough. “We can bring this care crisis together so that it galvanizes action. It’s an urgent issue.”
If her track record is any indication, Nooyi might be just the right person to make that happen.
This story is part of How We’ll Win 2019, a year-long exploration of the fight for gender equality. Read more stories here.