Naina Lal Kidwai – Harvard, HSBC and the Lean In movement
The fact that I was the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School in 1982 was a gratifying personal achievement but a sad social comment. Indian men had been going there for 30 years already! - Naina Lal Kidwai Kidwai’s name has featured in a number of lists which are testimony to her reputation and credibility as being one of the most respected bankers in the country, and also, one of its most powerful women. Astute and in tune with the needs of her company, HSBC, Kidwai has mastered the art of juggling her career, family commitments, as well as other associations, most notably FICCI; she became its President in 2012. Her journey from a young school topper who won every competition while studying at Shimla’s Loreto Convent, to a stubborn 23-year-old who argued endlessly with her parents and was eventually permitted to study at Harvard Business School, to a bewildered young professional who drew parallels between the placement of women’s bathrooms in the office to their actual role at the workplace; Naina Lal Kidwai’s journey is an inspiring one and she intends to inspire other women to create their own footsteps of achievement and professional success. Harvard Business School was a strategic decision on Kidwai’s part when it came to pursuing her education. Accompanying her father to his office and observing the work culture there, brought her to the realization that the only way to be incorporated into the male-dominated work environment was by upgrading her existing educational qualifications. An MBA from Harvard in 1982 made her the first Indian woman to have graduated from the institute, and employment under Price Waterhouse [now known as Price Waterhouse Coopers or PWC] also added another “first” to her list of accomplishments, she was their first female employee. However, it was her employment at HSBC, which opened her eyes to the small, but significant ways in which female employees were either cast aside or made to feel inferior to their male colleagues. An interesting observation which is common to her as well as Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is their perspectives on the placement of ladies washrooms in the office; if it was in a dark, dingy corner, or worse, on another floor of the office, it was indicative of the manner in which female employees were perceived at work. Kidwai’s first objectives involved assuring female employees of equal pay, respect, and the same quality of amenities and benefits enjoyed by male colleagues. True to her own life lessons, which she attributes to her experiences at Harvard, and also to her own struggles as part of the minority of female professionals, Kidwai is in favor of encouraging women to participate in the “Lean In” movement. The movement, started by Sheryl Sandberg, urges women to come forward and follow their ambitions rather than caving in to self-doubt and pressure from society to walk the line, i.e. restrict themselves to home and household work. A mother herself, Kidwai empathizes with those who are constantly told that they will not be able to balance the demands of home and the office, but says that it can, in fact, be achieved with the help of time management and prioritization. She says of her own arguments with her mother, who urged her to give up on her career while she was pregnant, “if I had stepped away, it would have reflected on all women. My whole experience was to show how to do it”.