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Indra Nooyi on Building a Purpose-Driven Culture That Prioritizes Diversity

Indra Nooyi on Building a Purpose-Driven Culture That Prioritizes Diversity
Photo Credit: Indra Nooyi
By Courtney Connley

Amid an ever evolving business landscape, more than 40% of executives say navigating changes quickly is a top leadership capability in 2024, followed by building a high-performing team and understanding and promoting diversity and inclusion, according to Chief’s “The New Era of Leadership” report.

Very few leaders understand the value and impact of these capabilities more than PepsiCo’s former chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi. In her 12 years as head of the Fortune 500 company, Nooyi nearly doubled the organization’s revenue, all while leading the brand to a healthy more sustainable future that included more nutritious food and beverages and that reduced the company’s carbon footprint and plastic waste.

As a judge for Chief’s The New Era of Leadership Awards, we’re highlighting some of Nooyi’s best tips for building a diverse, high-performing team that drives your company to success.

1. Everybody has to own the work of diversity and inclusion.

“Don’t call it a social responsibility, talk about it as having a business model that’s responsible,” Nooyi said in a 2021 conversation with Chief. “I would say the same for D&I. I think some people appoint a D&I officer and say, ‘It’s done. I got a D&I officer.’ Everybody has to own D&I. It starts with the CEO and goes down. It should be in their incentive. It should be part of their whole recruiting and talent development zeitgeist. It can’t be, ‘Talk to the D&I person.’ No, I’m the leader of my business, I own it.”

With ongoing attacks on corporate diversity programs today, Nooyi’s advice of diversity and inclusion being ingrained in every part of the organization is key for seeing effective and sustainable results despite any pushback.

“The D&I head can do the mechanics, but the spirit and the emotion behind D&I has to be owned by every line manager,” she adds.

2. Inclusion is a mindset that must be honed.

While the work of diversity and inclusion is often looped together, Nooyi makes it clear that many leaders fall short of seeing real progress because while “diversity is a number, inclusion is a mindset. And, the mindset has to be right.”

“Why are we talking about women differently than men,” she asks. “If you want to hire the best talent, you’ve got to hire from the whole pool equally, not start by saying, well, ‘I have 10 jobs, I’ve got two women, that’s plenty.’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to just say, ‘I want the best talent.’ I honestly believe that, if you go for the best talent and have the employee base in your company reflect the available talent outside, you will actually end up with a diverse pool.”

But beyond hiring more diverse individuals and thinking your work is done, Nooyi says leaders need to also ensure they’re creating an environment where all employees feel wanted and welcomed.

“That is where we fall apart,” she says. “We have good diversity programs, we go out and recruit people, and then for some reason we make them feel like they don’t matter or they don’t matter as much.” Research shows that American companies leave $1.05 trillion on the table annually by not having inclusive work cultures, which leads to high turnover rates, low productivity, and low morale.

“If we don’t work on this whole mindset change, we’re putting more and more of the onus on women and people of color,” she says. “Because when they come in, by not treating them as one of the others, you’re stripping away their confidence, and once you take away the confidence, their competence gets impacted.”

Click here to nominate a leader or company for Chief’s The New Era of Leadership Awards, which celebrates executive women and organizations who are redefining what it means to lead in 2024. The deadline to apply is Sunday, March 31. (Chief Membership not required).