PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi. (Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News)
When “Makers,” the documentary series about the women’s movement and female pioneers, first interviewed Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, the two made waves. Sandberg confessed that she leaves the office at 5:30 every day, while Mayer grabbed headlines when she admitted she doesn’t consider herself as a feminist.
So when the series — a joint project between PBS, AOL and filmmaker Dyllan McGee — aired the Women in Business installment of its six-part documentary series Tuesday, we tuned in for any worthwhile insights about women’s careers from the executives who were interviewed. They included PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman, Martha Stewart and, of course, Sandberg again.
The episode, a 52-minute jaunt through the past half century of business, had limited time to dig deeply into the personal stories of the women it interviewed. Instead, the film offered a quick history of the evolution of women in power in American corporations, from advertising trailblazer Mary Wells Lawrence to recent entrepreneurs like Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Hyman (who, it was interesting to learn, offers the 75 percent of her employees who are women unlimited maternity leave).
Rather than focus generally on women in the workplace, the documentary shone a spotlight on the female pioneers who reached for the top. As a result, the most compelling tidbits from these high-ranking women weren’t details of how these women managed their family life, but the discrimination they experienced and what it was like to be the only woman in the room. (For more interesting personal interviews that didn’t make the documentary — such as Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts talking about insecurities or Susan Wojcicki sharing why she joined a then-tiny startup called Google when she was four months pregnant — see the collection of interviews on Makers’ Web site.)
Here, a few passages from the documentary that show how much has evolved — yet how much still needs to change, too:
Shelly Lazarus, chairman emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather:
“I went from an all women’s college to a class of 300 [at Columbia Business School] where there were four women. We stood out. There was no question. There was a finance professor at the time who used to blush when I walked into the room. He was very pale and blond, and you could actually see the color rise on his face when I walked into the room.”
Sallie Krawcheck, chair, Ellevate, and former head of Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney:
“When I arrived at Salomon Brothers in 1987, was I in for culture shock. The entire culture was very masculine. Very competitive. Very testosterone-driven. There was a sense of work as an extreme combat sport. I received photocopies on my desk every morning of–how should we put it–male parts. Every day I’d come in, I’d crumple it up, I’d throw it away and thought ‘you know, I’m not going to Xerox on this floor. I’m going to find a different Xerox machine someplace else.’ “
Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett-Packard, and former CEO of eBay:
“I was invited to the Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley–which is a big deal. I arrived on Tuesday night, and I’m little bit late. So I walked up to a group of folks that were chatting and I said ‘Hi, I’m Meg Whitman, what do you all do?’ We had a nice chat.
And then this gentleman in the group said ‘So, what does your husband do?’ and I said ‘Well, he’s a neurosurgeon.’ He looked at the group and he said ‘Are we inviting doctors to this thing now?’ and I said ‘No no no no, I’m here by myself. I’m the president and CEO of eBay.’ “
Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo:
“The press puzzled me. They made me out to be this wild and wacky Eastern person. They would say things like ‘here’s this CEO that will sing and walk around in bare feet in the office.’ Yeah, after 8:00 at night when I was exhausted and my feet were hurting, I’d kick off my shoes. But there was nobody except me and the cleaning crew, and I’m working. I’m allowed to kick off my shoes at that time — you see, heels hurt. But why was that the story?”
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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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