Former PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi says she has no plans to run for office but in her post-retirement time she will focus on finding “systemic solutions” to address an impending “care crisis” due to a shortage of caregivers to look after young children and the elderly.
Nooyi, speaking at the 2019 Women in the World Summit here last week, warned that there is going to be a “massive shortage” of about a million caregivers for young children and the elderly in the US in the next couple of years.
She said the problem has to be addressed and solutions worked on really fast because everyday there are 10,000 baby boomers retiring, using the term to describe the demographic born worldwide between 1946 and 1964.
“Many of these boomers are going to need care going forward and the millennials are going to have to care for these boomers because they are the sandwich generation between the (baby boomers) and the kids. How are you going to make it all work,” Nooyi said.
“How are we going to redefine what is family, how we share each others’ time to create a more nurturing environment,” she said.
“This is going to require a symposium of the kind we have never had to talk about these issues, put a cost to it and figure out how to address it because if we don’t, we are going to be facing a major care crisis which we won’t know how to address in the next 24-36 months. That’s what worries me,” she said to a huge applause from the audience.
When asked how she would take the idea and put it to work and whether one should expect her to run for office, Nooyi replied, “No.”
Nooyi stressed that care workers, who typically earn less per hour than they would working at a local convenience store, are opting to work in a more social environment as opposed to doing care work for children and elderly people.
“That’s going to create a massive care shortage for us. We are going to have a million caregiver shortage – between aging care and child care – in a couple of years. What are we going to do.”
She said companies need millennials in the work place because otherwise the productivity of the country is impacted. “We need women in the workplace” but society also wants the millennial women to have two kids each to make sure the population is replaced the right way.
“But we cannot expect you to have those kids if we don’t give you the support system,” she said to another round of applause from the audience. “This is a real issue that as countries, companies, communities, families and societies we have to figure out a sensible way to come together and come up with true policy options and start working on this.”
“If we don’t come with up some systemic solutions to address this issue, there is going to be a crunch,” she said.
She added that she is trying to bring people together to write something about the issue in a way that is clear and crisp and everybody can understand what the problem and the solution is.
“Now the real question is how do we bring the right people around the table to say this is the set of solutions that will work and this is how we can pay for it.”
Nooyi said she is encouraged by efforts in Washington to look for solutions to the crisis, including through the many childcare bills making their way through Congress, paid family leave and support systems required for caregivers.
“We can bring this care crisis together as an issue that galvanises action and around that wrap a whole bunch of other factors which together can address this issue. It is an urgent issue and in my wonderful retirement years now, this is one of the things, I’m going to focus a lot of my attention on,” she said , adding that she is trying to convene the ex women-CEOs to say “we have to sign up to this” and she will be writing and publishing on this issue.
“We have to stop talking about this as a problem, we have to get to what is the solution, demand answers,” she said.
Nooyi emphasised the critical need for employees, particularly women, to find how to strike a balance between children and work while working to move up the career pyramid.
Nooyi narrated her own experience of how she managed to strike a balance between her work and taking care of her young children while moving up the ladder in PepsiCo. She said she had made it very clear at the outset that her children will spend time with her in the office if she couldn’t go home early to be with them.
“Very early in my time at PepsiCo, I had decided that I was going to be one of the guys but I was also going to be a woman so I was not going to allow them to push me around, which used to happen quite often.”
She stepped down on October 2 last year as PepsiCo’s CEO, after 24 years with the company, the last 12 as CEO of the global beverage giant.
Nooyi said when she joined PepsiCo in 1994, her eldest daughter was around 8 years old while the younger one was nine months. “I was in the middle of this large scale transformation of the company between 1994 and 2000, working 24/7,” she said, adding that she decided that after 5 pm, her kids were allowed to come to her office to be with her, play and sleep in her office.
“That’s the price of having me work at PepsiCo because if I couldn’t go home and take care of the kids, my office was going to become the place where they will hang out,” she said.
When asked if her bosses were ok with such an arrangement, Nooyi, who was then Head of Corporate Strategy, said to an applause, “Did they have a choice. If you want me, that’s the price of having me.”
“It comes down to, if you establish a niche for yourself that you are competent and make yourself indispensable based on competence, what can they do without you. If they didn’t want me because they didn’t want kids running around, then get somebody else, get a guy who couldn’t do the job as well,” she said.
Nooyi said she faced “zero” resistance to this approach of hers and even her boss, then Pepsi CEO Steven Reinemund “always helped” her out during instances when she had to attend to both her daughters at the same time.
“When you have bosses like that, it’s a piece of cake,” she said.