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Can Women Have It “ALL”? – Thoughts on Indra Nooyi’s views

July 2, 2014

For me, Facebook has evolved from a medium to peep into everybody’s exotic and beautiful lives through their photos and status messages to a medium which brings interesting news, views and articles to my fingertip. Today I came across an article published on website of The Atlantic where its owner, David Bradley interviews PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Now I consider Indra as one of the best role model for women who dreams of breaking the so-called proverbial glass ceiling. Whenever I have read her interviews I have found them insightful and witty. This one is no exception. Apart from talking about managing a business conglomerate, she gave her extremely frank opinion on work-life balance for a woman, which got me thinking hard.

I watched the full video just now and immediately opened my dashboard to type out this post, because there are so many things that I want to express out loud.

From the transcript you can see that Indra talks about how her mother told her that whether she was the CEO of PepsiCo or not, did not matter the moment she stepped inside her home – there she was only the wife/mother/daughter/daughter-in-law and was expected to do her duties. e.g. buying milk at 10 pm for next day’s breakfast.

This is so true in almost every household in India – for every women, whether she is a CEO or a professor or a doctor or an accountant or a consultant or a teacher! Every woman is expected to buy groceries and vegetables, instruct the cook or cook herself, do household chores if the maid is absent, pray to the Almighty for the family’s good health and fortune, tidy her house, help her kids do homework, observe fasts on religious grounds, keep the inventory stocked up at all times and satisfy her spouse’s needs – whether or not she stays at home or works for pay. She must leave behind her designation aka crown (in Indra’s mother’s words) and cannot, for the love of God, throw her weight around! She is forbidden to say that she is tired and hence would like to go to bed early, without ensuring a proper dinner at the table. In fact, this is true for my cook too. Even if she returns home tired after cooking in different household, she still has to cook for her husband a decent meal.

This brings me to my second thought. Indra’s mother thought her husband was too tired to go out at 8 pm to buy milk but she was in perfect shape to do it when she returned from a highly stressful workplace at 10 pm. This is again the prevailing attitude of the society. It’s the men’s which are real and actual jobs. The women’s career is just a 9-5 job even if she is globe-trotting for work, pulling all-nighters, bagging a fat performance bonus or heading a team of individuals at office. No matter what a woman accomplishes at work, she will always be considered inadequate and inefficient if she cannot manage her household. Just by being a woman, she ‘HAS’ to manage the household. These days, men have fashionably started to lend a hand to the in-house work, which means it is perfectly fine to expect women to lend a hand to the outside-house work e.g. buying vegetables, picking up laundry etc. If there is bank work to be done, the men cannot take a half day, of course. Today’s educated woman, adept in all financial matters has to take up the responsibility after making excuses at her work place as to why she can’t attend the 10 am meeting. Parents-teacher meeting at the kid’s school is always a mothers-teacher meeting. Craft projects will be brought by the kid to only the mother, who must juggle her Blackberry with black ribbons and paint.

Indra candidly confesses that women cannot have it all, even if they pretend they have! She talks of how guilty she used to feel when she could not attend her daughter’s school programmes. I was happy to know that I was not the only one who goes into immense guilt-trips when I cook a half-boiled dish or discover dust on the furniture or forget to stock up the inventory or feel lazy to straighten the bed or fall asleep without the main door being securely locked. Just like I feel bad if I miss a deadline at work or cannot turn up my best draft. This is because I too, believe that I can have it all; that I can be a brilliant lawyer and a brilliant home-maker and wife; that I can impress people at work with my sharp legal acumen and family with my cooking skills – all at the same time.

Did my belief waver at Indra’s confession? I am not sure. Am I being unreasonable in my goals? Only time will tell. May be I want to try it out myself and come to my own conclusion whether or women can have it all. However the upside is that I have decided to stop feeling guilty for being less than perfect in a few spheres of my life.

Till the time I learn the tricks of the trade of managing both home and work with ease, I raise a toast to all women, single or married, with or without kids, working or stay-at-home for constantly striving to achieve the perfect balance in their minds or according to our society.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2014 8:46 pm

    a Toast from me side too.. You know I can relate to this without the gender part.. because coming to uk , leaving family and friend behind in india.. had ot go throguh and am still going through all this no matter how hard a day I have .. or what stress I have .. GOT to pick up milk or bread on the way home for next day .. If I want fresh .. else go to work empty stomach ..

  2. July 2, 2014 11:09 pm

    The simplest explanation I can think of, attributing nothing to gender biases, is that it is like choosing between two careers. One has to be the priority. For example, being a writer or a lawyer (you) or scientist (me), one has to take precedence. You cannot be brilliant two-things at the same time- simply because you can’t devote equal time. You have to choose. Sad but true. (I haven’t seen the video but will do soon)

    • debosmita permalink*
      July 3, 2014 11:25 am

      What if you have to choose between professional life and an equally demanding job called managing home? And top of it all you want to pursue your passion of writing? 24 hours fall short at times!
      Forget brilliant, passable should do for one of the two. But then again, I am a sucker for perfection. That’s why I have devised my definition of a perfect home which is way less perfect than my mother’s! 😉

  3. July 2, 2014 11:25 pm

    I agree with Guria. Also this is where the gender bias must be eliminated for good. There is nothing wrong in getting husbands to work at home as well. We have divided our work at home and we both contribute equally in keeping the house clean or in cooking. Husband is always ready to pitch in when I am running out of time.

    • debosmita permalink*
      July 3, 2014 11:27 am

      Spousal and other family members’ support is the driving force behind any woman trying to achieve a home-work balance. Thankfully, men are much more open to lending a hand here and there now.

  4. July 3, 2014 9:21 am

    It’s all about choices. Indira was brave enough to confess and most women will agree with her. Today more and more urban men are willing to help with kids homework and household chores. However, it will take decades to change the mindset. Your last para sums it up beautifully.

  5. Semanti permalink
    July 3, 2014 10:46 pm

    I usually do not comment…but on this I couldn’t hold back. Its a subject that used to haunt me, but I believe I have reached peace with myself on this with the following tricks:

    a) The life is yours and so is your problems and your decisions. You don’t live your life to make anyone else happy, but you. If you want to make someone happy, it is because their smile makes you happy. If making someone happy, does not make you happy, don’t care.

    b) Gender roles are defined by society for you. You redefine them as you deem fit and then most importantly stick to them. You do not compromise on them just because it seems rational in the eyes of others, because then you are doing what society expects you to do.

    c) Knowing exactly your limits, acknowledging them and then prioritising your ‘existing’ responsibilities accordingly. If after an honest assessment you do not think you can take anymore responsibilities, decide not to take them. This applies equally for your personal and professional responsibilities. Remember the first point.

    d) Last and most importantly, have your own definition of happiness and success and believe in it with your whole heart. Do not allow anyone else you to define them in any other way.

    All in all, this is the era of customization, so customize your life according to your own wish. Its difficult but not impossible.

    • debosmita permalink*
      July 7, 2014 10:03 pm

      Ah! Fully agree with your words.

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