Would Indra Nooyi like to be the kind of mother to her daughters that her mother has been to her?

Professional success and financial self reliance does not automatically create an understanding of gender injustice (or any injustice) and the role that plays in perpetuating misogyny (or any prejudice).

What made Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo share how her mother treated her sister and her? Why did she want the world to know about this? What was she trying to convey? Is she proud of her mother… ?

Would she like to be the kind of mother to her daughters that her mother was to her?

Whether or not she wants to, in some ways, it seems, she might. Instead of explaining why she (and her husband) couldn’t attend the Class Coffee in their daughter’s school, she asked the school the names of other mothers who missed the meetings and told the daughter,

“ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn’t there, Mrs. So and So wasn’t there. So I’m not the only bad mother.”

This is what guilt can do to parents, and this is why the dad didn’t need to be so illogical and so on the defensive.

What if the child understood that being a loving mother did not mean giving up something that made her happy? Why are working dads (generally) spared this guilt?

Nooyi said they were two sisters and they a have a much younger brother. Their mother was smart but couldn’t afford higher education and lived vicariously through her daughters. Their mother ‘put them through the paces of these aspirational jobs’, like she made them prepare presidential or prime ministerial speeches – (where she would decide who she would vote for), but she also threatened them with arranged marriages at 18 years of age.

Indra K. Nooyi says the sisters actually feared that this could happen. She did not believe she had a say in this? But isn’t this true for so many Indian women today? (of course it is, or else it wouldn’t be so easy for this minister in the previous post to ‘promise’ ‘wives’ to men in Haryana)

But, did Indra Nooyi see this as wrong? Does she come across as justifying this? Would she like to be the kind of mother to her daughters that her mother was to her?

How common in India are mothers who know their place and would like the daughters to know their place too – somewhere at the bottom of the family-hierarchy, with few rights and freedoms and with predefined duties?

I wonder if she ever – politely and respectfully, asked her mother what she thought would make her daughters happy. Was she brought up to ask questions and to seek honest answers? Does she sound like she is proud of the challenges she lives with? Does she seem to want to change the situation – or does she seem to be fine with it – maybe even justifying it (maybe, when she says she is sure her mother is proud of her but in their community they don’t believe in showing they are proud)?

Should she be burdened with the task of being a role model for Indian women, doesn’t that add further to the guilt?

Indra Nooyi explains that the men in the family put their foot down and did not allow the mother to arrange their marriages when they were 18. Why did the men know more about the changing times? Was it more about knowing that the girls could get away with not being married off at 18, or maybe even that careers could improve their marriage prospects – or was it about letting the daughters choose their own futures?

Also, if they were really liberal why didn’t the mother get similar opportunities and encouragement?

How would it have been if her mother was supportive, positive, not-misogynistic? And what if her husband was a little more involved – he did not know that there was no milk…. ?


Link shared by Madhavi with this question:

I am wondering how many working men, or all those intellectual male CEOs  need to choose between being a husband or a father and their work every day.

Related Posts:
Mommy Guilt: A Western Influence.

Do Indian women see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem in the first place?

“Please help! How do I prove to my guy friends that women are equal to men? “

How can the society ensure that marriage (and homemaking) does not result in women becoming financially dependent on their husbands?

Society benefits immensely from childbearing, childrearing, and caregiving work that currently goes unpaid.

And if a woman demands equality, she should behave exactly like a male…?

Were Indian Women Better Off As Homemakers?


34 thoughts on “Would Indra Nooyi like to be the kind of mother to her daughters that her mother has been to her?

  1. I believe she did what she had to. When she was dealing with the coffee meetings, i doubt she had the time to think whether she would one day be a role model. That she succeeded inspite of all this is what should be lauded. Why over-analyze?

    Liked by 1 person

    • She believes she has been a bad-mother – and is sure that’s what her daughters would say of her. If her career makes her a bad mother, then shouldn’t her husband’s career make him a bad father too?


      • I have met many women of my age group who’s mother’s were working outside home and the mothers hadn’t been able to attend all possible meetings at school or missed their events in many ways.. but I have seen children always thought very high of their mothers and now they look up to her. Every mother has guilt of some sort. Indra Nooyi only choose the way what worked for her and for her kids given the circumstances she was in. Why do you think her husband is not supportive or not guilty for the less time he spent ..?.. and fathers are equally guilty of their time not spending with children..it’s just that we women express it and they don’t.


      • Every parent looks back and judges themselves what they did wrong and what they could have done differently. DG’s mother is first generation working woman in her family her home making duties still remained as such while dad toasted his ankles with newspaper after work, the more time she spent at work the more demands on her time at home were made. Mother definitely felt she failed at parenting dad never felt that but now after 20yrs he feels he was mostly absentee parent and she was doing the double duty. We cannot blame that generation for doing what they did they still paved way for us to stand where we are today. If DG and her sibling were to rate their parents they both did bad in many ways and they both excelled in many other. The net result is positive.

        Growing up DG’s mother would reason she is a better mother than her own mother for she doesn’t do xyz to her daughter as her mother did. It was like wao, you are justifying your bad behavior by comparing it to worse behavior of your predecessor. As DG stands on the shoulders of a giant mother and her kind she’ll prefer to overlook the limitations because what they did was to their best understanding given their resources and circumstances (social conditioning).



      • As I have commented in an earlier post, the problem arises from the inherent desire to have kids and then be a good mom. Why can’t be talk about not having kids given the fact that we have more than a billion people living in our country? Why is ‘not having kids’ being encouraged as a choice amongst the working women?

        Also, how do we know as to what the husband has been subjected to or how he feels? Aren’t we making assumptions here?

        Going back to my original argument, all this would fix itself, if we promote ‘remaining single’ and ‘not having kids’ for working women. I don’t think working women can be forced to get married or married working women can be forced to have kids. In the unlikely scenario of this happening, why can’t they divorce their husbands instead of accepting to be moms or wives? It’s like any other conflict which can’t be resolved and the most suggested solution for those seem to be to part ways with the husband or in laws. I think we should make intelligent choices. It’s high time we stop over-populating this country of ours with more and more kids and then complain about being good or bad moms. Simply put, one should focus on what one wants to do or what makes one happy.


        • ‘But a lot of working women WANT to have kids…’

          We should create awareness about the ‘cost’ of having kids in terms of negative impact to one’s career as someone has mentioned in another comment. It will help people make informed choices.


      • Im curious now, where does she specifically say “she believes she has been a bad mother”. In the interview she says this (Im quoting it from the interview) –

        ” We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure.”

        I didnt take that to automatically mean she is a bad mom and that she is sure her daughters would say that.


        • She said this to convince her kid that she wasn’t the only one. She hasn’t confessed to be a ‘bad mother’ herself. I would imagine she is proud of her achievement and is pretty comfortable with the sacrifices that she has made to get where she is now.

          Also, why do you have to be present for every thing that your kid is a part of? Isn’t it expected that if you excel in a particular field in your life, you would be average or even bad in other fields. That’s just how life works and that is in effect what she is trying to convey. She is a woman and she is sharing her experience. Why are we expecting her to judge men and be politically correct in everything she says.

          I would think the point to be taken note of is the fact that in order to achieve anything in life, you have to let go of certain things. The shared her part of the story so that others can benefit from her experience.


    • We are analyzing this because countless women, despite having a stressful and hectic work schedule are still expected to “pick up the milk”, make rotis from scratch, clean the entire house, take care of aging parents and partake fully in raising children while the husband is exempt from all of the home and child care duties. Do you see that there is something unfair here? Numerous women have written about this unfairness to IHM’s blog. That’s why it’s relevant. Nooyi’s success IS being lauded. No one is deriding her success. Her corporate success is not the topic here. The topic is – why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.


      • Agree here: IHM I suggest that the topic heading be changed. Because this post is not about Nooyi: It’s about why many extremely successful women still feel obligated to make a choice between personal responsibilities like being a mother, sister, daughter etc. and their career. It is about if and why fewer successful men feel similar obligations about being a father, son etc. and their career. It is about how social conditioning makes it… umm.. that much more ‘harder’ for women to have successful careers. It is about gendered-roles and why fathers and mothers or husbands and wives are not expected to meet the same standards when it comes to personal responsibilities.


    • Vishakha , no one denies what she has achieved despite of the adversity within her home.
      The point here rises on reading the interview of a worldclass Ceo is how she does self-abasing due to her Cultural or Social Expectations , and despite of her exposure she has not understood equality , there is no msg for equality and bringinup children to understand why mother works or not, I see in her inteview she says her husband too becomes a teenager …Actually What nonsense…
      Fathers , dont they have responsibility to attend the school PTM , A very old style of keeping peace at home at any cost , cross questioning the teachers fo who didnt come , scare to fight back at home , but fight everywhere …This is typical Bhartiya Bahu expectations and she lived upto that and also preaching somewhere by accepting and not even once analyzing its issue..

      People with power and reach giving interview on what happened is fine , but what is her message further , same things in continuation in the modern bottle , accept different yardstick for women and men ??? This is absolutely what Bhisma did in Mahabharat , Person with Power and reach kept quiet in name rules , laws , tradition , hence he is condemned for that behaviour which did no good to society and Krishna straight said his Greatness was of no use infact when powerful people behave like this it rather causes destruction.

      Sane people like us supporting and flowing with her “laachari” is simply being Bhism ….Sorry to say , we need to question the wrong , praise the right doings..Its only her personal super tough freaky achievement where if she hasnt reached inner peace as somewhere still in the problems … and not yet solved …and spreading wrong messages to the world…Problems.. ok not always to get solution but her attitude is still adheres to drag and achieve all with justified guilt…


  2. I liked that she spoke it out as it is. This is what our society is without sugar coating and it is a reality. There are different yardsticks for the genders. So she admitted it and worked with it and around it.
    Regarding her kids, i will say what I felt.
    I used to get upset with my mom for going to work. Like R gets upset with R’s mom(a blogger) and several other kids. But I grew up to understand that my mom’s independence in fact shaped me to be ready for my future. It taught me a lot. My dad regrets certain things that happened post their marriage where she was made to give up her railway job. So both of them have doubly encouraged me to be as career oriented as I want to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Once, Gloria Steinem said that women won’t be equal outside the home until men are equal inside the home, and Nooyi’s recent comments validate that point. There’s still a long way to go, but in the West, the mass entry of women into the workforce resulted in a partial restructuring of gender and familial roles. The phenomenon of women entering the workforce doesn’t appear to have had the same effect in India; instead, women are expected to shoulder the burdens of a full-time job, while also behaving like Victorian-era angels of the house when they’re at home.

    I can feel sorry for Nooyi’s mother since she had her own dreams and aspirations thwarted, but her behavior seems really toxic and hostile. That story about the milk didn’t seem like a temporary instance of insensitivity; it seemed like a gleeful smackdown. I guess women of that generation were often ambivalent about their daughters – happy that they had opportunities that they themselves didn’t have, but simultaneously bitter and resentful.


  4. I don’t think she would be the same, she is more exposed . Plus from my exp, I try not to perpetuate any gender specific stuff on. Especially stuff I’ve faced.
    Most of us learn and valve or so I hope.


  5. I read this article a week ago and got really ticked off. What is Indra Nooyi trying to say that could help young women ? Nothing except the same old mommy guilt trips. She is already CEO of a fortune 500 company, she has definitely overcome a lot to reach there, I expected her to give more useful practical advice to women rather than saying they can’t have it all. How about tell women that they need to demand from their husbands to be REAL partners and step up in parenting and household responsibilities? Husbands and extended families do not get a free pass, they need to be held responsible and nagged 100 times if they don’t listen. If that means being rude, bossy and demanding, so be it, that is what it takes to fulfill your goals. Nice girls don’t get the corner office, Indra Nooyi knows that better than anyone else and she should have made it clear in such an interview that would be read by young women just starting out. She should have clearly stated her mother’s attitude was wrong, hurtful and disrespectful and not make the whole “wife/mother first” crap lecture into some gospel of truth for model Indian woman. If I was Indra Nooyi, I will tell women to step up, don’t sacrifice on your dreams, don’t feel guilty, kids will grow up just fine and don’t get that milk at 10 pm right after you are promoted, you are now a board president, atleast stand up to your damn mother.


    • May be she couldn’t afford to stand up to her mother,….the mother was her stand in to take care of her children.
      When husbands don’t do their share of work and in laws don’t take care of their grandchildren its the Nana’s and nanis who step up and take care.
      Indian families have shitty dynamics ,….all the rights of husband’s parents ,…the Dada and dadis and all shit work and giving presents of Nana and nanis.


      • That’s the sad reality unfortunately but those useless husbands and in-laws do not get a free pass and women need to realize that.
        Better to divorce such idiots, hire a full time nanny and housekeeper and have peace of mind. When you are the board president or that high level, you can easily afford such helpers, no need to waste your time
        bringing milk or making roti. Her time is worth lot more doing better work, needs to be clearly conveyed to the hubby/kids/in-laws/parents in no apologetic terms. If they don’t like it, they can go to hell and make the rotis themselves, no need to feel guilty and waste your mental energy on it.
        This is the attitude I want my daughter to have and exactly what I will teach her.
        Women who have power and economic means should not hesitate to assert it and not tolerate such crap. Such weak half ass response from Ms Nooyi is disappointing.


  6. I feel that a lot of Indian women who belonged to Nooyi’s generation had to compromise a lot.If you wanted to be a career woman you needed to take it on in addition to parenting and housekeeping duties that a traditional homemaker had.Several of them possibly ‘felt grateful’ that they were allowed to do so.
    In fact as late as 2005 I remember a discussion that happened between my boss(a male manager) and his team during an informal discussion.He was very disapproving of a wife of one his IT friends.The friends wife was also in IT.She wanted to go abroad to do her MBA while leaving her husband behind for the duration.My boss felt the wife was very selfish! I told him I saw no issue as it was very common in our company for married colleagues(mostly male) to go onsite for a long duration while they left their spouse behind.Apparently following your career aspirations when you are a married female is ‘taboo’ if you are inconveniencing your spouse! And by those ‘inconveniences’ I mean cooking and cleaning for yourself.Shikes!
    Frankly if ‘having it all’ means that the female has to shoulder the entire housework and work duties,what is the need to have a partner? I remember in Shery Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ she talked about how selecting your spouse is your most important career decision.Makes total sense to me now.


  7. I think that controversial as they might be, her views are far more realistic than the “Lean In” variety. No, women can’t have it all, shouldn’t try to, and shouldn’t waste time feeling guilty over every darned thing that they couldn’t do. Just like the guys. So, drop the guilt, do your best, take whatever help you can get to run your life the way *you* want, and enjoy (as best as *you* can).


  8. Indra nooyi just stated the obvious and what is actually happening.Men and women both can’t have it all….the only difference women are made to feel guilt and sometimes women themselves feel guilty.
    After all,women give birth to children,…they are more involved from day one…nurturing children by their blood.If men carried fetus for nine months ,I bet they would feel guilty, would have pangs to leave a boring job ….
    I think this is never ending struggle…. Women can’t have it all !


  9. IHM, do check out this link. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pepsico-ceo-indira-nooyi-most-sucessful-and-super-achiever-woman-of-india-2006/1/180011.html

    I am kind of tired of people bashing without listening. Yes, her mom was old school and did her best, could have been a lot more appreciative but I can see her side too, coming from where I do – the whole tug between wanting the daughters to have better and being afraid for them. My mom, a few generations younger, does much better by me and I know I will do much better for my children – daughter AND son.

    This whole ‘why did the husband not get the milk’ school is super irritating. One, he did a lot more for much longer, so one incident isn’t an indication of anything. Two, there were three other adults in the picture, 2 people paid to help….so maybe efficiency was an issue…once in a while? Three, if the shoe were on the other foot and the woman came home at 8 and did what was required at home, would it be okay to wake her up at 10 and make her go for the milk? Wouldn’t we all be baying for his blood?!

    I think what she said about women not having it all is valid. About as much as it is for involved fathers. Parenting as a task is a job and a half, so obviously something has to give somewhere. Some of us make choices that prioritizes parenting, others work around it and prioritize other things of importance to them. I am no one to judge. If anything, all I will say is shuck the guilt – guilt is useless. Make clear choices and then live with them. Of what use if feeling guilty? Also, ever heard a man being so guilty about his choices when he is doing his best? Talking only of positive choices here – think that is the right way to go. This overly emotional ‘guilt kills me’ nonsense has to stop. When everyone’s doing their best, why is this necessary?!


  10. I’m so glad you brought this up. This article has been doing the rounds of the internet with the most annoying comments by people on ” how true! Women can’t really have it all” etc.

    I really do think the concept of “having it all” itself needs to be re-defined.
    I mean… how is it practically possibly for any man or woman to always be around the kids and ALSO be fully present anywhere else, be it a job or housekeeping or gardening or anything else.

    Why is it seen as necessary to be with the child at ALL times in order to be considered a good mother (I say mother and not parent cos only moms seem to face this flak, dads going away to work and leaving the kids at home seem to be perfectly acceptable).

    Why is it that once a woman becomes a mother, she is expected to leave everything else she was until that point and focus only on the child? A kid should be taught to respect the fact that their moms are individuals with interests and ambitions and careers of their own and not just their personal matron-in-waiting. This will be healthy for everyone involved, as the mother will not have the excuse of ” I sacrificed my life to raise you, now you will do what I say even if you are an adult” and force kids into careers, marriages and other life-decisions as is the norm in our society.
    I know so many mothers who feel absolutely lost once their kids go away to college cos they were in the role of caregiver to their kids for so long that they have nothing else going for them and suddenly feel like they have no purpose in life anymore. Empty nest syndrome.

    Just cos you have a job or a hobby or decide to go on a vacation without your tween in tow does not make you any less of a mom.

    Nooyi’s mother seems like quite a piece of work! The gall of the woman to send her daughter who comes in home at 10pm after work to buy milk when they have hired help and innumerable number of people who were in the house before her is just unbelievable!


  11. Why are we expecting her to say things that could help young women? Why are we expecting her to cry foul over the unfairness of it all? That she reached where she did should be enough of an encouragement to all women out there no? Yes the world is not fair, men get away without having to worry about kids and milk and lots of other things. Some women just take it in their stride and forge their way ahead and we should appreciate that. Does that mean they are justifying the unfairness? No. Does that mean they are encouraging this sort of behaviour by keeping silent? No. What i see is that she had defined her priorities and stuck to them. That is leading by example.
    We women must continue to do this. We must question social norms. We must create awareness about the inequalities in the society – and IHM does a great job of this on her blog, but do we have to do that by criticising what are her experiences? Please note, the above is not her opinion..the above are her real experiences.


  12. Sometimes others make you feel guilty . While having a discussion in coffee break in my office a coworker suggested she won’t like working after having kid. She doesn’t want to miss the golden moments of her kid’s growing year. Above that as she doesn’t have any financial issue she can choose not to work. I was among only few people who were not ready to leave the job. I can’t see myself not working for a longer run. The stability , the independence and the confidence which I get from earning can’t be replaced.
    But my coworker views were little different was leading to a suggestion that I may not be a good mother in future. I have never seen anyone in my family leaving job for kid. Even my husband won’t support that. He always tells me empty head creates havoc in life. So I should remain busy somehow. And I feel very happy when I see my sisters and sister-in-laws working. My nephew and nieces are not suffering in any way. In contrast from a small age they know about gender equality . They see their fathers dividing house chores with their mothers. My brother in law who works in merchant navy happily takes care of his son when he is on his break for four months in a year.


  13. When I first read the milk comment, I was appalled. How could she take this slight from her mother so positively? Then, I stepped back and thought of the context. Perhaps, this is more than just getting milk at 10pm. It’s about humility. And that makes for an excellent leader. In context of being a CEO, no matter how high she rose, it was important to be grounded about her other responsibilities.
    And let’s face it being a wife, daughter and mother are other responsibilities. But just like there are 100 recipes for garam masala, there are 100 ways in which you could have a personally satisfying relationship in each of these quarters. My personal experience is that everything won’t be great in all quarters – work and personal – all the time. But you figure a balance and you do what makes you happy.
    Kids and career are choices. It’s up to you to decide how important they are. There aren’t right or wrong decisions here – only decisions that you can work with, and are comfortable with. The moment you start comparing – between generations, between friends, between households – you will start looking for reasons to justify and validate your actions.
    I think one must have a philosophy about what a fulfilling life/ relationship/ career means to them and act accordingly. Sure, read all the books you want and seek to emulate people you admire, but ultimately, it’s an individual journey and you have to figure out the route for yourself.


  14. Pingback: Why are mothers ignored, asks SC | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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