This Women’s Day, we are inspired by two successful female leaders, Indra Nooyi and Michelle Obama, and the challenges that they faced, which are universal and remain relevant for many women today.
Indra is an Indian American executive who was the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. Hers is a story of firsts; she was the first woman of colour and the first immigrant to head a Fortune 50 company. She has consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women and is also a mother of two.
As a woman of colour and an immigrant, she believed that she had to work much harder than her male counterparts to prove herself in corporate America in the 90s when there were no female CEOs, let alone immigrant women of colour. She has spoken candidly about the unrealistic expectations placed on women executives who are also caregivers. In her book, she admitted that she regularly fell short as a mother: ‘The truth is, there is no such thing as balancing work and family. It’s a constant juggling act. And it is the people around us who make this juggling possible.’
Despite the challenges on her arduous climb, PepsiCo significantly increased its profitability while also working to improve environmental sustainability and the healthiness of its products under her leadership. Her legacy as a brilliant thinker and a corporate strategist, as well as her contribution to society, cannot be doubted.
Michelle is an attorney and author who was the first African American woman to serve as First Lady. She has degrees from Princeton and Harvard and is a mother of two.
In 2007, she reduced her professional responsibilities by 80% to support her husband’s presidential campaign, despite her reservations about this, which were due to the possible negative impact on their daughters. During the campaign, she was assigned a lot of negative labels because of her race and gender and had to do major work on her appearance and demeanour to soften her public image.
During the 2012 re-election campaign, her popularity and effectiveness soared, and she was considered one of the most popular members of the Obama administration. Despite her academic and career success, she suffered from Imposter Syndrome, initially struggling to find her purpose, and feeling overwhelmed. She conquered her fears and to this day inspires women around the world to rise above obstacles.
She became an invaluable asset in both her husband’s presidential election bids. As First Lady, she has become a role model and advocate for healthy families, service members, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. She co-founded the Obama Foundation, supporting education for girls globally.
Perhaps the purpose of celebrating Women’s Day in 2023 is to highlight some of the challenges that many women still face today and to show appreciation for all women who rise above and inspire many young girls across the world.
In celebrating Women’s Day, we commemorate the momentous women’s demonstration of August 1956 in Pretoria. Their resolve was a demand to define the scope of their own lives. We have made significant progress in gender equity since that day. However, many women today still experience a myriad of challenges of being seen in society and by the institutions in which they serve and work. The challenges may emanate from feelings of being accepted as worthy of leadership positions to dealing with the demands of being a woman in a leadership role. The stories of Indra Nooyi and Michelle Obama shed light on this complexity.
Lize Lubbe CA(SA), CGMA
Chief Growth Officer, Thrive Investment Managers, a venture capital fund manager that invests in affordable high-quality independent education.