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What Indra Nooyi’s Departure as CEO of PepsiCo Means for the Future of Female Leadership

By: Katie Richards

On Monday, PepsiCo announced that CEO Indra Nooyi, a 12-year veteran in the role and a 24-year PepsiCo employee, is stepping down on Oct. 3. With the news of her departure, PepsiCo also announced that Nooyi’s successor would be a man (current PepsiCo president Ramon Laguarta), bringing the number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies from 24 to 23.

Nooyi’s major contributions in her time as CEO include creating a more nutritious range of products and reducing the brand’s environmental footprint. But even as people celebrated her personal accomplishments at PepsiCo, the news of her departure sparked questions about what it means for the future of female leaders at major brands.

“We have this dwindling number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500, and it’s not good for us today,” said Katica Roy, CEO and co-founder of Pipeline Equity. “It’s also not good for the future.”

Studies have shown time and again that having gender parity, and overall diversity, in the workplace is good for business. Roy’s company recently conducted a study of 4,000 companies in 29 countries and found that for every 10 percent increase in gender equity, companies typically see a 1-2 percent increase in revenue.

So what’s stopping brands?

For one, experts say, there is still plenty of unconscious bias against women in power.

“This contributes to the small number of women in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies,” said Joanne McKinney, CEO, brand transformation company, Burns Group. “Whether we like it or not, today, gender impacts power and status, especially when it comes to how women show up in terms of executive presence.”

Many companies implement mentoring programs and other small-scale training for women to not only empower female employees, but also encourage them to pursue high-ranking positions. For Faith Popcorn, a futurist, author and CEO of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, that’s not going to cut it.

Popcorn said she pushes many of the Fortune 500 companies she works with to “take strong transparent steps to equity.” That includes making sure women are seen and heard throughout the company, and are engaged “as they are the most important consumer, controlling 90 percent of purchases,” she said.

“No more men mentoring women,” Popcorn added. “Let women lead the way.”

Nooyi served as a role model for other women, rising to the top of the ranks and running PepsiCo for 12 years while growing the company’s revenue from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017. And people hope she continues to inspire women to strive for the CEO role.

“I hope that she has inspired all women to know they can operate at the highest level and that we start to see more of that,” Judge Graham, digital marketing expert and author, said.

Added McKinney, “I believe for any minority group in the workplace, seeing people like you at the highest level of leadership is very motivating. It creates the suggestion of your future.”

Still, not everyone is hopeful for the future.

The World Economic Forum currently projects we will see gender parity in the U.S. in 168 years and globally in 217 years, and both of those numbers have increased in the past year.

“We have a long road ahead, but even if she didn’t step down, we would still have a long road ahead,” said Stephanie Redlener, founder at Lioness, and managing director of talent strategy at DDG. “This is a much larger issue beyond Indra Nooyi’s departure. In my view, it is shining a light on a call to action: to create more pathways for women to rise and create cultures that support women and all people in the workplace and beyond.”

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