Women CAN Have It ‘All’

by Nina Sethi

Posted March 9 5 min read

Pepisco’s CEO Indra Nooyi weighed in on the provocative work-life balance debate at a recent festival, telling the audience that it remains difficult for her to manage both her intense personal and professional demands. Ranked #13 on Forbes' Power Women's list, Nooyi candidly shared her experience leading one of the world’s largest corporations whilst also balancing her family life - raising her two children. For Nooyi, 'having it all' is an illusion that comes with painful sacrifices and tradeoffs: “You have to cope” advises the 58-year-old exec, “because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt."

This is not a unique point of view, and is a sentiment that is echoed again and again by other people in senior leadership roles. These articles in the press make me feel that it is impossible for women to succeed both in their professions and in their personal lives. I disagree. 

Defining ‘All’ in the above statement is very important. “All” to me means having a healthy and productive life and valuing the people I love as much as the success I seek. I would like to share my story and the reasons for my beliefs. “All” can be different for women and girls at different phases of their life and you can understand this from my story.

I was born in a traditional Indian household as one of three girls and to us, Education was paramount.  With my parents’ unwavering support through thick and thin, all three of us graduated with flying colours. In my case - after having topped the state and thinking I had scaled the heights of success - I was rudely brought down to earth by an earth shattering statement made to me by my uncle.  He said, “You could be rejoicing like a frog in the well - you are thinking that the well is the whole world. Try and get out and see your mettle.”

After making my case to my parents, I left to study further from home in a large city. The journey made me understand the risks, the freedom and the responsibility that came along with this and I developed survival skills to live alone and at a distance from my family.

At that stage, “All” to me was the ability to change my parent’s mindset, to survive away from them, to keep myself safe and land a job so I could help financially. Fortunately I met my life partner at the same time so “All” added another dimension – I wanted to create a family with this man. At that stage “All” had nothing to do with my dreams 20 years from then and what I would be. Like almost every other human being I wanted to be happy and healthy and financially independent. Did I have it “All” – yes – because the goals between the ages of 20 to 30 were very clear to me.

After I left India to be in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi & UK – my definition of “All” changed. We had three very expensive (!) children and so now geographical stability that would give my children an opportunity to grow to their potential, a steady income that grew with promotions, a support system of family and help to allow me to do justice to both work and family became more important. What did I need to get this ‘All’ ? A loving, healthy and honest relationship with my partner who could understand my core values, strong lines of communication with my employers, my willingness to learn, develop and take on work and my collaborative skills to influence family and help and to be there to lean on in times of need. “All” at that stage did not mean being dejected that I did not get to become GM of a remote country because that was my choice.

As my children left home for higher education, the fact that I had kept myself up to date with the industry and in my role within the organization meant that I was able to apply for more challenging roles far away from home. My definition of “All” had changed. I was able to take risks, work crazy hours again and demonstrate that my innate intelligence had not gone away after child birth and being a mother! I was able to go through successive promotions to reach the positions I had been forced to give up earlier in my life. Any regrets? No. Do I have it ‘All’? An emphatic Yes.

“All” to me is about defining what your goals are in the phase of life you are in. My experience says, you can have it “All” when:

  • You are honest with yourself about who you are and what your core values and priorities are
  • You build a support system all through your life and are not afraid or egoistic to ask for help
  • You choose to work in organizations that respect your gender diversity, and that align with your own value system
  • You constantly learn and develop yourself in the area you are passionate about. For example I was not even a manager but I would constantly read about how to be a good one – and lo behold when I was interviewed it was as if I already knew!

I hope sharing my story gives encouragement to at least a few women who may feel they need to make a choice between career and family life. You CAN have both – different times of your life need you to accelerate and decelerate, change directions as you would when you are driving to ensure you reach your destination safe and happy. 

Source: Forbes Magazine article

8 comments on “Women CAN Have It ‘All’”

Kirti Talwar 3 years, 5 months ago

Loved the article Nina...I share same sentiment and story !!!


Chunyuan 3 years, 6 months ago

I am so much blessed to work with a leader like you in the whole of my career. Thanks for sharing those inspirational experience and advice. :)


Priyanka Dwivedi 3 years, 6 months ago

You are an inspiration! Truly encouraging


Chandana 3 years, 6 months ago

Wonderful piece of advice...This will surely help a lot of women out there who find it a "struggle" to balance work-life.


Belén Abad 3 years, 6 months ago

Thank you Nina. I had the pleasure to work with you in the past and have followed your career since, you are an inspiration to us all!!


Tessa Goodhead 3 years, 6 months ago

Great Blog Nina!


Debbie Browne 3 years, 7 months ago

Great article Nina. Getting the balance right between drive and caring for self and others whilst knowing when and where to seek support is so important. You did it.


Meenakshi 3 years, 7 months ago

Nicely written


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