The news that Indra Nooyi, Pepsi’s long-time CEO, stepped down on Oct. 2 comes at a time when there are too few women in the top job.
Ms. Nooyi counted many successes in her 12-year run, defeating an activist investor’s attempt to break up the company and pushing PepsiCo chips and sodas to healthier snacks such as hummus and kombucha.
While top business leaders routinely move on, the departure of women CEOs appears much more conspicuous.
In Chicago alone, we have seen the departure of CEO Ilene Gordon from Ingredion and CEO Irene Rosenfeld from Mondelez International in the past year.
Women are not leaving the CEO positions in greater percentages than men, according to Equilar. The trouble is, there are just too few females running major public corporations today.
That’s why 100×25, the Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative for achieving gender inclusivity in the workplace by bringing more women to the C-suite by 2025 is even more important today.
Since I became President and CEO of USG Corp. November 1, 2016, I regularly receive requests to tell the story of my journey to become CEO of our 116-year-old American manufacturing company, the leading manufacturer of building products and innovative solutions around the world.
When I spoke at the 2016 Annual Women’s Day Forum at the United Nations, I encouraged women to “Do the Math”, words made famous by Matt Damon or rather his character Mark Watney in the movie “The Martian.”
“You do the math. You solve one problem then you solve the next problem.”
I tell my audience that’s what business leaders do: solve problems. Whether you’re on a hostile planet trying to get back to Earth, or facing a business challenge, you do the math. You solve one problem at a time.
Math is foundational for any career today. Math is the M in STEM. I was lucky. I grew up with math. My father was a calculus teacher. I started helping him grade papers when I was in fourth grade.
My Illinois public school gave me a great STEM foundation, where I also had the benefit of female classmates who competed with me for top honors in math, chemistry, and physics. I may have been one of the few women pursuing an honors math curriculum at Notre Dame, which enabled me to easily move to computer applications. By the time I was pursuing my MBA at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, I continued to build on a foundation of confidence.
I believe math opens a world of opportunities. Demand for employees with programing and engineering skills continue to outpace the supply. Technology continues to advance and change everything. For women, developing the ability to use technology to solve problems and to innovate is essential in improving our quality of life and securing the future.
I was one of the women interviewed by Korn/Ferry’s Jane Stevenson and Evelyn Orr as part of their research project called the CEO Pipeline Project, which included 57 female CEOs, 41 from Fortune 1000 companies and 16 from large privately held companies, supported by a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
As Stevenson and Orr point out, organizations should identify and develop promising female talent early in their careers. To that I would add my own story of how IBM identified me as a high-potential leader in my first job out of Notre Dame. IBM created additional learning opportunities for me. They paired me with senior executives for mentoring.
When one of the vice presidents said, “You could run this place” a light bulb went off. That was a real confidence builder and affirmation that I was a leader.
I might not have seen my path as clearly had I not heard the term leader. It filled me with hope and responsibility.
I also think it’s important for women to understand and demonstrate that they know where organization is going and how their work advances the company. Knowing how each role contributes to achieving the company’s financial targets is also important. Ideally, she sees how each assignment not only builds her success but the company’s success as well.
High-achieving women need to know the company as well as its customers. In our hyper-competitive, digitally connected and global world, we’re all in customer service.
Thank you, Rockefeller Foundation for bringing attention to the important issue of advancing women. By 2025, my daughters will be setting out on their careers and I hope they see an unlimited path unfolding before them. In the meantime, I plan to tell the story of my journey, answer questions and give advice to help other women move forward.