A couple of weeks ago, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, gave an interview to The Atlantic in which she said women cannot have it all.
The article’s title, “Why PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi Can’t Have it All” is a little misleading in that she talks about how grounded her mother makes her and how it still takes a village to raise a child…just that today’s village looks a little bit different.
But it got everyone up in arms, including Kim Kardashian who very clearly is an expert on having it all.
What she said is not that women can’t have it all, but that we make choices every day. Am I going to be a wife or mother today or am I going to be a business leader?
The answer, of course, depends on what’s happening in both places. Do you have a really sick child at home? Then today you choose to be a mother. Do you have a really big meeting at work? Then today you choose to be a business leader.
Go Get the Milk
Sometimes that choice is made for you.
She tells the story of how, when 14 years ago she was told she was being promoted to president on the board of directors.
She left work early (10:00 p.m. versus midnight – wow) and went home to share the exciting news with her mom. When she arrived at home, her mom was waiting at the top of the stairs and told her they were out of milk and she needed to go back out and get some.
She ran through the litany of people who could have gone to get the milk – her husband, the nanny, her mom – but her mom was adamant.
So she went and got the milk.
I banged it on the counter and I said, “I had great news for you. I’ve just been told that I’m going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?” And she said to me, “let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house. You know I’ve never seen that crown.”
Having it all, at that moment, meant she sure did get a fantastic promotion and was making huge strides at work, but their household needed milk for the next morning so she had to be the mom.
It Takes a Village
The other story she relayed during the interview was that of her kids who liked to call work constantly after school.
She coached her assistant to help ask the right questions before the children were allowed to do what they were calling to ask to do.
Train people at work. Train your family to be your extended family. You know what? When I’m in PepsiCo I travel a lot, and when my kids were tiny, especially my second one, we had strict rules on playing Nintendo. She’d call the office, and she didn’t care if I was in China, Japan, India, wherever. She’d call the office, the receptionist would pick up the phone, “Can I speak to my mommy?” Everybody knows if somebody says, ‘Can I speak to mommy?’ It’s my daughter. So she’d say, “Yes, Tyra, what can I do for you?”
“I want to play Nintendo.”
So she has a set of questions. “Have you finished your homework?” Etc. I say this because that’s what it takes. She goes through the questions and she says, “Okay, you can play Nintendo half an hour.” Then she leaves me a message. “Tyra called at 5. This is the sequence of questions I went through. I’ve given her permission.” So it’s seamless parenting.
Today your village is made up of your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends, your family (if you’re lucky enough to have them live nearby), and parents from school.
And that’s okay. It still takes a village to raise a child. Give yourself permission to build that village how you see fit.
Women and Having it All
What this comes down to is having the choice.
What “having it all” means to me is completely different than what it means to you and completely different than what it means to your sister or your cousin or your niece or your colleague or your friends.
My sister is six years younger than me. She got married very young and immediately started having babies. She has four kids that range from 12 to four years old.
She stayed home with them for 12 years and just went back to work a couple of months ago.
She will tell you that she’s exhausted and she’s worried and she’s stressed, but she’s happy and doing her version of having it all.
She also will tell you how angry it makes her that her neighbor across the street can build the perfect snowmen that look like every person in her family and she can barely get outside with the kids to build a snowman that looks like a snowman.
(This is the snowman we built with the kids during Christmas this past year.)
Who cares? Who cares that some moms make their own organic food and you call delivery? Who cares that some moms dry their baby bottles on grass and you air dry yours? Who cares that some moms have perfectly themed birthday parties, right down to the place cards and you throw together some balloons, hot dogs, Cheetos, and red kool-aid (which, by-the-way, was one of my favorite birthday meals as a kid)?
You get to decide what having it all means.
A friend of mine says, “Give yourself permission to define your own having it all and live it.” Don’t worry about what Kim Kardashian or Indra Nooyi or Sheryl Sanberg or Madeleine Albright or your neighbor or your parents or your siblings or your friends say.
You get to decide. Just you.