Four Questions with PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and Target’s Brian Cornell on Advancing Women in Leadership

April 25, 2016 - Article reads in
Brian Cornell (L) and Indra Nooyi (R) at an event

Indra Nooyi and Brian Cornell have a lot in common. They first met back in 1998, when Indra was leading strategy and business development for PepsiCo, and Brian was managing Tropicana’s North American business. In 2012, they worked together again as colleagues at PepsiCo, growing its global food and beverage business. Today, as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra is known as an inspiring leader and a champion of diversity. As chairman and CEO of Target, Brian also leads a company that holds up Inclusivity as a core belief.

Now, Indra and Brian are teaming up again—this time, as co-chairs of the Network of Executive Women’s (NEW) Future Fund—an industry-wide campaign aimed at achieving 50/50 gender parity in the workforce. Its goal is to fund technology that will supply industry-specific data, training solutions and collaboration tools to help more women advance their careers and land leadership roles. To do it, NEW is calling on the support of its nearly 10,000 members from the retail and consumer goods and services sectors.

As the campaign kicks off, we sat down with Indra and Brian to hear more about why its goal of supporting women in leadership is so important to them on a personal level.

Why is NEW’s Future Fund initiative important to you and to your companies?

Indra: NEW’s Future Fund is important to PepsiCo because we need to make sure great women leaders have an opportunity to rise as far as their talents will take them. The Future Fund is tackling this challenge by providing new tools and training to increase the number of women in the retail and consumer goods industry that we’re proud to be a part of.

That matters to me as a CEO because helping women develop and advance their careers isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the right thing to do for our business. PepsiCo depends on women. We depend on our female nutritionists and marketers to develop foods and beverages that meet the needs of today’s consumers. We depend on our female salespeople to understand the purchasing patterns and family dynamics to help them serve our key customers. And more broadly, we depend on women consumers. Women are the gatekeepers to many of the key shopping experiences today so you need to win over female consumers otherwise you’re not going to have a successful business.

The research shows—and our own experience at PepsiCo has reaffirmed—that when you open up opportunities for women, you’re unlocking new opportunities for great leaders and new opportunities for the business as a whole.

Brian: That’s definitely true—and if you really want to make change, you’ve got to take partners and work together. NEW uses the power of community to connect women from different regions of the country, helps them become mentors and find new jobs. The group also provides resources—webinars, workshops, leadership summits and networking events—and it supports studies that help encourage inclusivity. I’ve been involved with NEW for a long time. I’ve participated in many of their conferences, spoken at their events and I’ve found myself in the hot seat on a few their panels. And after every event, I walk away feeling challenged and inspired. I’ve been impressed at the impact they’ve had on many talented female executives, including my colleagues at Target.

Indra, what’s one thing you see preventing women from achieving their goals today, and how might we start to fix it?

Indra: There are a number of different things that can be done to help women advance in the workplace today, but I’ll give you one example that’s particularly important to me. I think all of us women need to do a better job helping each other and supporting one another. Over the course of my own career, I’ve seen how men are often more comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback from one another than we are as women, and it holds us back. Healthy competition in the workplace is good. It can bring out the best in all of us. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of supporting each other. It shouldn’t come at the expense of getting each other’s back. So, my plea is for women to do more to help other women, from being better colleagues to mentoring one another and helping more women reach the heights of professional success.

Brian, why are you personally committed to advancing women in leadership?

Brian: I’ve been lucky to work with many excellent leaders over the years. I’m surrounded by an amazing team here at Target. I worked with Indra at PepsiCo, and before that, Ellen Marram, CEO of Tropicana, at a time when it was rare to see women in CEO positions. So the issue’s become a personal one for me. I recently joined Catalyst’s board of directors because I want to play an active role in accelerating the progress. My hope for the future is that our next generation of leaders won’t remember a time when it was unusual to see women in leadership roles at any level.

As leaders of Fortune 50 companies, what are you and your teams doing to open up opportunities for extraordinary women leaders?

Brian: We have a great story to tell at Target, but we have to do more. Today, women make up 36 percent of our Board of Directors and 45 percent of our C-Suite—both well above industry and external benchmarks. Almost half our 1,800+ Target stores across the country are run by female leaders—that includes running a business that generates tens of millions of dollars in annual sales, and leading teams of several hundred people.

Sure, we’re pleased with the progress, but we know we still have a lot of work to do. And it starts by continuing to build and support a culture of true workplace inclusion and an atmosphere that empowers women to be leaders and grow in their careers. At our headquarters, we have a Women’s Business Council that engages our team through things like mentorship experiences and career counseling. They also do male advocate work, support Target's women-owned vendors and suppliers, and engage our board members and their constituency in conversation. We bring in outside voices through speaker series designed to spark conversations about things like leadership, curiosity and innovation. Recent guests include inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano and the founders of theSkimm

Encouraging these kinds of activities as a part of our workplace culture is helping us close gaps, foster equity and create opportunities for all leaders.

Indra: Here at PepsiCo, we take a holistic view when it comes to advancing women, offering different kinds of support at different stages in their lives and careers. That starts with offering high school scholarships for girls from Turkey to Pakistan, where girls’ education is condemned in some quarters. When it comes to helping women enter the workforce, we’re partnering with UNESCO to prepare the next generation of leaders in Myanmar to make that transition successfully.

Once women are in the workplace, we’re helping them step into new jobs, including those traditionally held by men – like our Mexico team successfully placing more and more women in previously male-dominated roles like packaging and operating, and our Pinnacle Program developing and promoting female salespeople in the U.S., and what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia. Less than 10 years ago, PepsiCo had one female employee in Saudi Arabia. Today, our local team has successfully recruited, trained and retained more than 140 female associates for our snacks facility in Riyadh. We’ve established a number of effective workplace practices in line with local customs like women-only packaging lines and a range of transportation options for female employees who are not permitted to drive.

Without a doubt, there’s much more work to be done—and NEW’s Future Fund will help us do it—but the steps we’ve made are taking us in the right direction.

Want to hear more about what NEW’s Future Fund will support? Get more info at, or follow the campaign on social media at #ournewfuture.

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