We Can’t Talk About the Future of Work Without Talking About Families

FCOVID-19 presented some of the most difficult realities crisis have been as universal—or as analyzed—as the huge strain on families as they manage their home and work lives in an unstable world. These pressures aren’t new. These pressures were there for many decades. As our economy evolved to be more dependent on women in waged jobs, our support system did not change.

What’s new, to me, is that we’ve arrived at a moment where real collaboration to smooth the path for the next generation of family builders is possible. The answer lies in how we think about the “future of work.” I believe the tumult of the pandemic may finally be enough to make families central in the conversation. As CEO of PepsiCo, I’ve seen this divide before.

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Over a decade, I worked as a female CEO in high profile companies and was often asked by large crowds to talk about family conflict and work. I was surrounded by thousands of people concerned about the future and their family. The engagement was a huge impact on me. I learned and absorbed all the details at an emotional level. It was a great source of strength for people, and I realized how stressful it can be to create and nurture families.

Additionally, I was part of an elite group that invited global CEOs into meetings with top leaders around the globe. I came to notice that the painful stories about how people—especially women—struggle to blend their lives and livelihoods were entirely absent in those rooms. Talks by the titans of politics, industry and economics focused on how technology, finance and flight to Mars could advance our world. Family—the actual messy, delightful, difficult and treasured core of how most of us live—was fringe.

The consequences of this disconnect are profound. The failure to deal with work and family pressures within the highest rungs of global decisionmaking prevents millions of women each day from rising and leading and from finding a balance between a rewarding career and healthy partnerships and motherhood. A prosperous market should allow all women to have the option of working outside their home. The social and economic infrastructure that supports this decision must be in place.

Women’s financial independence and security—so central to their equality—are at stake. And ignoring the fact that the work world is still largely skewed toward the “ideal worker” of yore—an unencumbered male breadwinner—depletes us all.

The same goes for men. Companies lose out because productivity, innovation and profit suffer when so many employees feel they can’t bring their whole selves to work. Families lose out because they spend so much energy coping with old systems, from short school hours to a lack of parental leave or elder care, that don’t mesh with their reality.

This is a problem that affects the whole world. Many teenagers are deciding not to have kids because of their worries about managing it all. It could lead to dire economic implications in the future, as well as personal regret. With everything I have accomplished, my greatest joy was having children, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the experience if they want it.

I believe that we must address the work and family conundrum by focusing on our infrastructure around “care” with an energy and ingenuity like never before. This should be viewed as a leap of faith. First, ensure that every worker has the opportunity to take paid time off, and then move quickly to create the best elder-care and childcare solutions possible.

This mission will require leadership that we don’t often see. The fundamental role of a leader is to look for ways to shape the decades ahead, not just react to the present—and to help others accept the discomfort of disruptions to the status quo. Business leaders and policymakers are needed to bring together the knowledge and passion of all those who care about making work easier and easing family obligations. A can-do spirit of optimism is essential, as well as a sense of accountability. Our society can be transformed.

This article was adapted from My Full Life: Work, Family, and Future


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