Fairygodboss

For working moms, PepsiCo’s culture of support is hard to beat. Just ask Vanessa Montes De Oca, Zone Sales Director at PepsiCo, who describes her company’s culture as one that is “very focused on the well-being of our people”  In fact, she didn't feel pressured to return to work early from maternity leave.  “PepsiCo supported my needs as to how much time I needed to be off and bond with my newborn,” Vanessa says. “During my leave, my manager stayed close to my team to ensure they were supported while I was out of the office.” When she returned, it felt like she never left. “My team was very supportive and excited to have me back and helped me get back up to speed with the business.”

And this spirit of togetherness and support is felt by other employees, too. “I love the community feel and collaborative effort of working in PepsiCo R&D,” says Bich-Van Pham, Beverage R&D Science & Technology Sr. Manager. “I get to go to work, hang out with my friends and make food and beverages that people enjoy, which makes it a pretty fun job,” Pham says. “We work hard, help each other out, have lunch together and even meet up on the weekends.” And, company-organized engagement events ensure “a stronger sense of community among associates.” 

For Mariela Suarez Paz, Strategy Sr. Director of Global Sustainability, the best part of PepsiCo’s culture is its people. “Working with people from diverse backgrounds helps you understand that different work-life balance situations exist, and we need to be flexible and adapt as teams to ensure everyone in the team is achieving balance as much as possible.” 

Montes De Oca, Pham and Suarez Paz recently spoke to Fairygodboss about PepsiCo’s supportive culture and how it empowers them both as leaders and as parents. 

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current position, how long have you been in-role , and what were you doing before?

Pham: I manage a team researching ingredient capabilities to enable new beverage innovations, supporting brands such as Gatoradeand Rockstar. I explore new ingredient technologies, collaborate with universities and suppliers, and build technical programs to deliver our business needs. I have been in my current role for two years. Prior to this beverage ingredient managerial role, I worked on the food side of our portfolio for 10 years in project management, packaging advanced research and product/process development.

Suarez Paz: I joined PepsiCo in 2017 as a Strategy Director at PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA). In 2019, after PepsiCo acquired CytoSport — a protein beverage company — I transitioned to the team to help lead its integration into PepsiCo. In 2020, I moved to my current role on the Global Sustainability team, where I help develop and implement PepsiCo’s sustainability agenda.

Montes De Oca:  I joined PepsiCo in 2019 as a Zone Sales Director for Frito-Lay in Chicago IL.  In 2020, I relocated to Southern California as the Zone Sales Director for Los Angeles.  I was at Campbell Soup Company prior to joining PepsiCo.

Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?

Pham: I have a great partner in life who shares housework and childcare responsibilities so that neither of us feels overwhelmed with home or children and can focus on work when we need to. We are fortunate to be able to afford a great daycare near home and live close to my parents, who can help with watching the kids. We’ve also taken advantage of Bright Horizons back-up childcare, which PepsiCo subsidizes, to get an experienced caregiver come to the home when the kids were sick. 

PepsiCo and my managers have been great with flexible work hours and schedules, especially now with our new Work that Works policy, which allows us to work in the office or remotely depending on our jobs. I've always had managers who were understanding if I needed to get kids to appointments or if something came up unexpectedly. With Zoom, working from home or anywhere is pretty simple. There is trust that I am delivering my objectives.

Bich-Van Pham and family. Photo courtesy of PepsiCo.

Suarez Paz: At home, I rely on my husband and nanny. Both my husband and I work full time, so with two boys, we divide and conquer! At work, I rely on my team and colleagues. Collaborating with others is the key to getting it all done.

Montes De Oca: I have truly relied on my resources at home to help me, especially while working from home. My 15-year-old helps with chores and watching her baby brother, and my finance handles most of the tasks at home. I have a great support system.

I do rely on my team to plan ahead as well. I utilize Zoom with my team on a daily basis to stay connected, share best practices or just have conversations on winning out in the market.

What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

Pham: I don't know if I ever feel like I have achieved "balance." I always feel like there is more to do with work, the kids, the house… it's never-ending. When I get too caught up and start thinking, “Where's the ‘me’ time?,” I know that I need to step back and recharge. I try to find some time throughout the week to chat with friends or take a 30-minute break in the middle of the day to take a walk with my husband. I have to remind myself of the little moments — It's the little breaks and little wins in a week that give a semblance of balance. If I can find time to do that one thing that I really want to do that week for myself or with my family, that's a win. Or, if I need to work on something and my husband can cover with the kids, that's a win. It's a constant recalibration.

Suarez Paz: For me “balance” means flexibility to do work at times that work for me/my family’s schedule. It is important to be present for my family when it matters, whether it is a school celebration or a doctor’s appointment. I feel that I achieve balance when I have the flexibility to take the time to do these things and then get back to work, while still delivering high-quality output.

Montes De Oca: "Balance" to me means utilizing my calendar to prioritize between leading my team and supporting my family. At PepsiCo, I can grow my family and continue to grow my career.

Vanessa Montes De Oca and family. Photo courtesy of PepsiCo.

What’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today?

Pham: Work-life balance seems like a misnomer. I feel like people are pulled in multiple directions all the time. It's exhausting even with my great support network. I don't think you can have it all at the same time: It's a trade-off. That makes me sad sometimes because I was brought up thinking I could have it all. There seem to be so many expectations on what it means to be a good parent nowadays, with social media and more things to feel guilty about. I want to be a strong leader in my field, to be dedicated to my work AND I want to be present for my kids. I try to remember that you don’t have to do everything and to just have dedicated time to be present for the activities that you choose to do, but it is hard to stop the guilt from creeping in. It helps to surround myself and be open with other working moms who understand the struggle, so I know that I am not alone.

Suarez Paz: I think a misconception exists that work-life balance means or looks the same for everyone. Work-life balance will look different for each person. It will even look different for yourself at different times in your life. Therefore, the resources and tools we use will differ. 

Montes De Oca: Many female leaders have approached me and mentioned how much they admire me for having a baby while holding a Zone Sales Director role with PepsiCo. The biggest misconception is that they feel they won't get promoted or considered for future roles if they choose to have children. I always say: It will be tough, but it will get better. Nobody should sacrifice their personal aspirations for their career, and PepsiCo allows you to be successful in both.

How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child?

Pham: Talk to HR and other moms who have gone through the process. Each company has different policies and systems, and they can be tricky to navigate. The newborn phase is exhausting, as you are consumed by all things baby. Remember to take care of yourself and find outlets for yourself. It can be great to just get dressed in something other than sweats and go for a walk to feel like a human again.

Suarez Paz: I had several conversations with HR to understand the application process and paperwork that had to be completed to get the maternity leave benefits. Toward the final months of my pregnancy, I also made sure my manager and the colleague who would back me up were aware of the work I was leading in case I had to leave on short notice. 

I think it is important to have good communication with your manager and HR so that everyone is aware of the potential timeline. Also, as soon as a back-up is identified, making sure that person is up to speed and prepared to take over your responsibilities is key.

Montes De Oca: I prepared for maternity leave by meeting with my frontline employees to discuss my vision and mission for the business. I met with my team on a regular basis as I got closer to the eight months of my pregnancy, and I set clear expectations with my team on what we needed to focus on to drive the business.

How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work?

Pham: I took about 16 weeks for my first baby and 14 weeks for my second. It was hard juggling work, pumping, and a baby who wakes up in the middle of the night. At the same time, it was also great to see adults at work and have conversations about things other than feeding and diapers. I loved being out in the world again. My husband was able to take his paternity leave when I returned to work, so it also helped that we could trade off.

Suarez Paz: I was out on maternity leave for four months. I worked remotely last year due to the pandemic and my return to work was smooth since I was working from home full-time. It made it easier to transition back. 

Mariela Suarez Paz and family. Photo courtesy of PepsiCo.

Montes De Oca: I was on maternity leave for seven months, and it was a bit scary not knowing what to expect. I was very nervous about having a baby and returning to my team and not being able to do both well. Thanks to the support I’ve received from both PepsiCo and my fiance, John, I can succeed as a sales director and mom.

Why do you think PepsiCo is a particularly great place to be a working mom? And what type of programs do they offer to aid parents?

Pham: There are a lot of working parents at PepsiCo, so I feel that most people are understanding of having to figure out the work-life balance. PepsiCo’s flexible Work that Works policy lets you choose where you do work, depending on your role and your team’s needs. We also have great Employee Resource Groups, such as the Society of Women Engineers, Women’s Inclusion Network and Women of Color that offer mentoring, Moms groups and skills building.

Suarez Paz: For me, it has been the flexibility. While I don’t personally use it, I know that the childcare option PepsiCo offers inside the HQ campus is great for many families. 

Montes De Oca: PepsiCo is a great place for working moms because you have the flexibility to start your day earlier most of the time to get ahead on the priorities that drive our business. PepsiCo offers maternity leave and baby bonding time off to ensure that we get to know the new addition to our family. Additionally, the flexibility with meetings via Zoom is an advantage so you can attend from anywhere. I can go to work with the peace of mind that my son will be very well taken care of. I'm very pleased with the overall support that PepsiCo has provided my family.

I also appreciate having access to Castlight, a wellness app through PepsiCo. I was able to read maternity articles and research anything I had concerns about. During my maternity leave, I would get updates as to what to expect on a weekly basis with my baby's development, which was incredibly helpful.

What are you especially good at as a mom? What about at work?

Pham: I think I am good at being creative: making up pretend games, making toys out of whatever. We pretended the diaper boxes were boats to go on adventures and built a playhouse from all the shipping cardboard boxes during the pandemic. I also try to include my kids in everyday activities; they have just as much fun helping with laundry or cooking. At work, I am good at connecting ideas and people. In a big company like PepsiCo, it is very important to build up a network and connect all the dots so that we can build the right capabilities for future innovations.

Suarez Paz: As a mom, I think I am good at listening and inquiring, trying to make sure I put myself in my kids’ shoes. At work, I think I am good at problem solving — structuring how to address issues and working with different teams to help develop solutions.

Montes De Oca:  I'm very good at spending quality time with my  fiance and my kids to show my family how much I love them. At work, I'm good at empowering my Sales team to ensure that they always feel supported in the workplace.

What’s your #1 tip for new moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?

Pham: It takes a village so don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on others.

Suarez Paz: To not get discouraged. It is a hard and delicate balance to achieve, but it is possible with the right support system both at home and at work. 

Montes De Oca: Hang in there, it'll get better, and enjoy every minute of it. At times, it might get overwhelming, but when you look back, you'll feel fulfilled and accomplished. Our kids grow up very fast and our careers are fast-paced, but that's what keeps us going and growing.

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