Today, she is considered to be one of the most powerful women in the world. But back in the day, Indra Nooyi was just a simple girl from Madras who went to Yale School of Management in 1978 with a bag full of dreams and a challenging road ahead.
In her memoir, Indra Nooyi, the former Chairperson of PepsiCo, opened up about a particular incident involving sarees. So, when companies were coming to Yale to offer brilliant minds summer jobs at their firms, Indra realised she didn’t have a business suit to wear to the interviews.
So, with 50 dollars in her pocket, she went to a shop and picked out a dark-blue polyester outfit which included a two-button jacket and matching slacks. To that, she added a turquoise polyester blouse with light-blue and dark-blue vertical stripes.
However, on the day of the interview, she wore her brand new outfit and realised that it didn’t look good on her. Moneycontrol quoted her writing:
“The blouse fit nicely, but the slacks were a lot shorter than I had realized. The jacket hung awkwardly on me,” she revealed.
Even though everyone gasped looking at her, she pretended not to care. She sat for the interview and it went well. But when she left the room, she felt “embarrassed and defeated”.
She burst out in tears in front of the director of career development, Jane Morrison.
“Look at me. I went to the interview like this. Everyone is laughing at me. I wanted to fit in,” Indra told Jane.
However, Jane asked her what she would wear if the interview were in India.
“A saree,” said Indra.
“Next time, wear the sari. And if they won’t hire you for who you are, it’s their loss. Just be yourself,” Jane told her.
Indra went on another job interview with a consulting firm named Booz Allen Hamilton. This time, she wore a saree.
“I wore my favourite turquoise silk sari with cream flowers and a turquoise blouse, and I met with a Booz Allen partner from Texas who put me at ease right away. He conducted a rigorous interview using a business case, and I felt he was judging my ability, not worrying one bit about what I wore or looked like.”
She bagged a job and started to work for the Chicago-based firm alongside interns from Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago.
She wore a saree every day to work, but she wasn’t taken to client meetings. Recalling the early days, Indra revealed:
“I wore a sari to work every day but never visited the client. Taking me to a client meeting in Indianapolis in a sari would have been too jarring in those days. At the time, I fully understood and accepted my colleagues’ leaving me behind. It seemed a small price to pay.”
Even today, there are people who believe that women who wear sarees aren’t modern or capable enough and discriminate against them. It is high time the world moves forward from such regressive thinking.