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PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi: 'Working moms can't have it all'

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo.,

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo., speaks at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo., on Monday, June 30, 2014. Credit: Bloomberg News / Matthew Staver

Even queens must lay aside their crowns, sometimes. Unless you are Queen Elizabeth II or another reigning female monarch, I suppose.

Recently, corporate queen Indra Nooyi, 58, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and mother of two daughters, remarked on work-life balance in an interview with David Bradley, owner of the Atlantic Media Co. Nooyi recalled how on the night she was named president of the company years ago, she came home to share the news but her mother said, “let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?"

“Leave that damned crown in the garage,” her mother told her. “And don't bring it into the house.”

Can working women, especially those who are high up in the corporate ladder, have it all? Should there even be an expectation that we should have it all? Is it OK to not have it all? These questions have generated heated debates in the past and continue to do so in 2014.

Nooyi said she has “developed coping mechanisms” on dealing with "mommy guilt": “I don't think women can have it all,” she said. "We pretend we can have it all...You know, you have to cope. Because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt." That a woman like Nooyi, considered one of the most powerful in the world, should have to get home and tend to her family's needs, while a man in a similar position may not always have to, reeks of biases and can make womenfolk fume.

Still, I don't think anyone, working mothers or fathers, at any income level or professions, can have it all. We have to make choices depending on our needs and priorities and live with the consequences. Working moms or dads, should they burn the midnight oil at their jobs, by default miss out on family time. If they work during the day, they miss out on events during the day. If they work evenings, they cannot attend evening programs such as school concerts or parent-teacher meetings. We can either accept our limitations or feel guilt. There's nothing wrong with not having it all.

As more women work outside of the home and have demanding careers, we need to address our work-life balance dilemmas, just as working fathers do. Fathers, too, I am sure, suffer pangs of guilt when they cannot have it all, but women perhaps tend to feel guilt to a greater degree, given societal, family and personal expectations. Guilt may simply be part of the equation that all corporate queens have to live with. Besides a gender bias, in Nooyi’s case -- she is an Indian-born American, perhaps there are cultural biases that come into play as well, with women in certain cultures expected to fulfill their obligations at home regardless of their achievements outside the home.

That even the most successful and powerful corporate queens among us can only wear our crown for part of the day is humbling and limiting. When we get home, we may have to cast aside our tiaras and still take the trash out, get the milk, chauffeur our children around and help them with math problems that may make our jobs seem like a breeze. We simply can't have it all.

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