Diversity in Big-Company Leadership Shrinks as PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi Prepares to Step Down

Diversity in Big-Company Leadership Shrinks as PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi Prepares to Step Down

After 12 years at the helm of the multinational food and beverage conglomerate, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi announced on Monday that she would retire from her position in October. Nooyi will be succeeded by Ramon Laguarta, the head of PepsiCo’s Europe and sub-Saharan Africa business, who has been with the company for 22 years. In an interview with the New York Times, the 62-year-old departing CEO said she was stepping down now in part to spend more time with her 86-year-old mother:

“You reach a point where you get tired,” Ms. Nooyi said. “Physically tired. And your family starts to demand more time of you. I’ve reached that point.” Inside PepsiCo, Ms. Nooyi was known for working incredibly long hours — as many as 20 hours a day, often seven days a week. When asked Monday whether she felt that made her a good role model for other women, Ms. Nooyi said, “probably not.”

“But you have to remember when I started working in this corporate world, there were hardly any women in the jobs I was in. At that time, 30 or 40 years ago, expectations for women were unreasonable. We had to produce a better product and do everything much better than the men in order to move ahead,” Ms. Nooyi said.

Nooyi’s departure will leave just 24 women leading S&P 500 companies, according to the non-profit organization Catalyst, though that number will bounce back up to 25 again when Kathy Warden takes up her new post as CEO of Northrop Grumman next January. Other women have stepped down from CEO roles at big companies this year, however, including Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Irene Rosenfeld of the snack food maker Mondelez International, so the gender balance of this exclusive club is on a downward trend.

Nooyi has discussed her remarkable path to corporate leadership in a number of interviews, as well as why more women don’t make it to the top. In her view, the dearth of women in the C-suite has less to do with sexist conceptions of what leadership looks like and more to do with a pipeline problem, Vauhini Vara explains at the Atlantic, pointing to an interview she gave on the Freakonomics podcast earlier this year. That’s because the critical point in many professionals’ careers coincides with the time in their lives when they become parents and raise their children—a responsibility that still falls primarily on women:

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How ‘Leaving Loudly’ Can Help Promote Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

How ‘Leaving Loudly’ Can Help Promote Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

Last month, a News.com.au report highlighted a novel way that a CEO in Australia has been trying to encourage better work-life balance and less presenteeism in his workforce. Robbert Rietbroek, CEO of PepsiCo in Australia and New Zealand, asks his executive team to “leave loudly” when departing the office so that they are being extra visible (and audible) role models for junior employees.

“If I occasionally go at 4 pm to pick up my daughters,” Rietbroek told the news site, “I will make sure I tell the people around me, ‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires.” He added that if you are “younger or more junior, you need to be able to see your leaders go home, to be comfortable to leave.”

Since Rietbroek became CEO in 2015, he has been promoting a number of family-friendly workplace policies, including 16-week parental leave, flexible work times, and summer Fridays. The benefits are not just limited to working parents, either, as the flexibility is centered around the concept of “One Simple Thing,” where an employee can pick the most important thing in their personal life and can build a work schedule around that. For many, the one simple thing is being more involved in their children’s lives, but for others, like the head of procurement, it can be a hobby like surfing.

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