Closing The Gap

Indra Nooyi has advice for stamping out workplace bias

Indian American business executive and former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images

Indra Nooyi knows what it's like to be the outsider at work.

As an Indian woman who kickstarted her career in 1980's corporate America, she had to fight for years to make herself seen before famously taking the helm as PepsiCo's first female CEO in 2006.

"I worked harder than anyone else ... so that people didn't look at me as a woman, a woman of color, an immigrant," the 63-year-old said recently at Women's Forum Asia in Singapore.

Times have since changed, she noted. Women and minorities are now better represented in universities and workplaces, and many companies say they are striving for greater diversity and inclusion.

But there remains a long way to go, continued Nooyi, who called on fellow business leaders to take a more active role in forwarding progress.

Don't say I'll talk to him outside the meeting. Right there, stop the meeting.
Indra Nooyi
Board member, Amazon

"Nip it in the bud," if you see biases creeping through, said Nooyi, noting she didn't want others to go through the hardships she faced.

"Don't say I'll talk to him outside the meeting. Right there, stop the meeting and say 'why are you rolling your eyes, is there a problem?'" she said, citing a real life example of a male staff member who dismissed his female colleague's comments.

"If you model that sort of behavior in the board room, in the meeting rooms, you're actually sending a signal to the whole company that the leader will not tolerate bad behavior," said Nooyi, who stepped down as PepsiCo's CEO in October 2018, but continues to serve on a number of boards including Amazon's.

That public display will then filter down to other colleagues and do a better job of curbing biases than any private conversations could, she noted.

"All your direct reports should model the same behavior," said Nooyi. "If that behavior cascades down the company, we have a chance that the culture of the company could change."

"That doesn't happen when all of these conversations happen in private ... behavior doesn't really change (and) people think they have a licence to behave badly."

Don't miss: Gender gap in science and tech could be down to girls' academic strengths, say researchers

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM