Care is the Issue of Our Time | Q&A with Indra Nooyi

We sat down with Indra Nooyi, a founding member of the I Am Not Alone Care Alliance and one of the world’s most respected and recognized leaders to discuss the realities of caregiving in the workplace.

Indra’s perspective was so powerful– she truly believes care is the issue of our time, and is clear that every sector, organization, and leader should be paying attention.

Read our Q&A with Indra to learn why she thinks every sector, organization, and leader should be paying attention to building a better infrastructure of care support.

Q: You were CEO of PepsiCo for 12 years, which I realize is seven years longer than the average CEO, which is pretty impressive. And you’ve been consistently ranked as the most powerful woman in business, and in the world.

And now you serve on the board of Amazon, a director at Phillips, you’re on the board of Memorial Sloan Kettering. But of all the things that you’ve experienced and pushed forward and accomplished, why is your focus now family caregiving?

A: That’s a great question. When I was CEO of PepsiCo, people would always ask me, especially young women, how do you do it? How do you have a family, stay married, you know, keep the job going and perform at such a high level?

And so people kept asking me for my secret recipe, the fact of the matter is, I did not have a secret recipe. I won the lottery of life in some ways in that I married the right guy and as an Asian, I had a big Asian, multi-generational family that stepped in and said, we’ll help you. Everybody’s not blessed with that sort of an infrastructure around them.

So, the big question was, you know, as I retired from PepsiCo, rather than lie on the beach or learn to play golf, I decided I’d go back and visit this painful you know, issue that young women in particular were struggling with.

How do we allow them to have families, which are a source of tremendous joy, and at the same, stay in the paid economy because the economy needs them. And more importantly, how do we allow them to grow, not just come into the job scene, but grow and thrive and reach a point where companies will have five women to pick from to be CEO, not just one woman that bubbles up. So that was my goal when I started this whole book writing process to say, I want to focus on this care issue to see if there’s a way out of this conundrum we are all facing.

Q: I remember when we met in New York in 2019…you were so generous with your time with me and my co-founder, Steve, and we were in the early stages of building out ianacare and talking about family caregiving. And I remember you clearly having such an influence that continues to inspire us today of how we built ianacare, where you told us, don’t think of ianacare as just a tool or a product. But we need to build an infrastructure of care.

And so that is how we describe ourselves today, that we’re this infrastructure of support to navigate all the care in the home. And you use that word infrastructure specifically. So, can you unpack that a little bit more for us?

A: When we think about infrastructure, we think about roads, rails, bridges, you know, our power system, our water system.

When we really sit down and think about it– if we didn’t have nurses, if we didn’t have teachers, if we didn’t have senior care workers, childcare workers, teachers, people who clean our home…society could not operate.

And so I think that we have to come back and say, care is not an afterthought. Caregivers should not be an afterthought. These are people that keep the economy running. They are vital to the economy.

And you know what bugged me even more was that this was the profession where disproportionate number of people were women. I said, we ought to stop talking about it as care, which people automatically assume it’s a woman’s problem and start talking about it as an infrastructure problem.

Funnily, when you use the word infrastructure, it becomes everybody’s problem. Yes. But when you use the word care, it becomes a woman’s problem. Interesting. That’s why I think we are talk about it as a critical infrastructure. Because if we didn’t have this, we have no society.

Q: And so when we think about the infrastructure and having led one of the largest employers, what do you think the role of the employer is in this care infrastructure?

A: You know, one of the things I discovered was every time we talk about care, we talk about it through the eyes of middle to senior level executives who are trying to break through to become CEO. I’m worrying about the entry level person who you know, is just making an entry level job And so I felt that through covid, which was my big aha moment. All of these issues came to a head, and I realized, we are forgetting that there’s a large portion of the economy that provides the care and needs the care. For some reason we are not talking about them.

So I think I was looking at as care not being a human issue rather than a political issue. I thought of it as an economic issue because it enabled people to come to work. So to me it was dollars and cents with a human touch.

Q: So this may be a difficult question, but what are employers responsible for and what are they not responsible for?

A: That is the toughest question of them all, because you can’t punt every issue to corporations and say you’re responsible for it. The same time you can’t punt everything to governments and say you take care of it. But right now, everything is being punted to the individual families say you take care of it.

These are tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs that are unfilled because the wages aren’t good, and people just can’t put up with the stress of these jobs. And so, I think we have to come to terms with the challenge in front of us, and it comes down to this– if we want enough people. If we want the best and brightest and enough people, enough hands to serve the economy, we’ve got to figure out how to provide them the support structures to serve the economy.

We have to figure out how to slice and dice this economic pie very differently. It cannot be done by corporations alone.

It can’t be done by governments alone. It’s got to be a coming together of the federal and state government, corporations, local community organizations, all coming together and saying. This is a problem that has to be addressed. How are we going to do it? Look, people are not robots.

We’ve got to look at these as true human beings that have to be dealt with differently. I think this issue, how we going to handle this whole care issue broadly could well be the issue of our time.

But it’s not being looked at that way at all.

Q: So I want to be very practical here because we have a lot of companies, employers, HR leaders who are saying, okay, I do believe this is important, but how do I actually get this approved and through. So imagine all these leaders coming up to you, with all these budget proposals, all these initiatives and caregiving is there, how do you even prioritize?

A: All that we have to do is look at the numbers. People are talking about the great resignation today. There are 7 million jobs unfilled in the country today. If you want to fill these jobs, you need to find a way to support these people so they can come back to the job scene, and many of them are leaving the job scene because they don’t have any caregiving support at home. That’s the reality. And so, for companies, if you want full employment inside the company for all the jobs you have, you better provide some care infrastructure. Obviously, it costs money. There’s no question about it. They don’t come free. So the real question is, should you look at caregiving as a perk?

Should you look at it as a social responsibility or should you look at it as part of your human resource costs? It’s up to you which bucket you want to put.

Q: So as a CEO, what has been your approach in establishing that culture of care?

A: We made our own – took our own baby steps. We put in onsite childcare or nearside childcare. But again, that was more for the office workers. We did not, and I mentioned this in the book, we didn’t solve for the factory worker. We didn’t solve for the salesman who has to go out and actually sell to customers. And I think they’re all the middle to lower wage earners, and so I don’t have a solution for that as yet except to say if you look at a particular area where there are six or seven manufacturing plants, should all the companies get together and set up a childcare system, which covers not just the regular hours, but also the unusual hours so that families can drop off their kids, go to work and come back and pick up their kids, and then those childcare workers, how do we pay them a good wage as opposed to a subsistence wage?

Q: This whole I am Not Alone Care Alliance, you being a founding member, ~~~~and again, inspiring us and opening up our eyes of how we even define caregiving and in a broader scope, has had such an influence.

And the whole purpose of this alliance is to say what you always say is, one organization, one person cannot do this alone. We have to link arms with policy makers, culture changes, leaders, decision makers, and together we can make this change, but we have to work together. So, in your own words, why is it important to you to be part of this as a founding member, which we’re so grateful for?

A: I think people do feel very, very alone when it comes to this issue. And they feel like they’re on their own. They have to sort it out all of themselves, and they feel helpless. They’re in despair because they don’t have a solution. And so I think what ianacare has done is actually provided hope to people to say, we are now linking you to networks of people who can actually help you solve this issue.

And so, to me, it’s giving people hope at a time when they, they felt hopeless. And that’s why I think more people that sign up to this alliance is more important because together we can give people hope. Look, at the end of the day, this is only going to work if we rebuild trust in communities.

To me, this is not a care issue alone. This is a fundamental societal basic infrastructure issue coming back to that word. Yes. And that’s why it’s exciting to be part of the alliance.

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