Naina Lal Kidwai: Balancing dual roles
Naina Lal Kidwai is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world, and is also regarded as being one of the first women to break stereotypes which demand that a woman choose only one priority; motherhood or professional growth. Kidwai has excelled at both, and her story of negotiating deals with her family in order to gain permission to study at Harvard Business School, her long struggle to gain a foothold in a male-dominated industry, and valuable contribution towards making her work place a more gender neutral environment, has made her an example of how women can successfully balance innumerable priorities and succeed. When Kidwai became pregnant in 1992, she was told to do what most pregnant working women tend to lean towards; quit her job and focus on motherhood. Given that her job was in the banking sector [she was Head of Investment Banking for Morgan Stanley India, and JM Morgan Stanley at the time], it seemed logical for her to trade in the papers for a more comfortable life of raising a child. However, Kidwai chose to add yet another responsibility to her already impressive repertoire; that of motherhood. Today she is mother to a 21-year-old daughter, Kemaya, and step mother to 33-year-old Rumaan; and also serves as the Country Head and Group Manager for HSBC India. Despite being from a somewhat progressive North Indian family with an industrialist background, Kidwai says she too faced the usual questions which plague women who want to break away from traditional roles. She is quoted as saying, “there were few female role models during my growing years. I looked at the men around me and thought, how am I any less”? She followed this thought through her life, and refused to be distracted, even while pregnant. Today she makes it a point to prioritize time with her family, and is known for planning nature trips to places which have no mobile phone coverage or internet access. Family time to her is precious, and work related interference is strictly not welcome. The road towards attaining the fine balance between mother and banking professional was not smooth. Kidwai says she missed innumerable family engagements or often arrived late for special events due to her hectic schedule. The always-persistent plea to give up her professional ambitions persisted, but she did not give up, choosing instead to pursue them, albeit with a few sacrifices in between. Her only regret has been that she would have liked to have spent a little more time with family. However, it appears that her decision to maintain that strict balance between professional time and family time has resulted in more quality time with her husband and children, and has also allowed her to pursue some of her hobbies; she enjoys bird-watching, hiking and trekking. Overall, Kidwai has successfully raised her children without making them feel neglected, and has also ensured the success of her own professional aspirations. A significant example of her success comes in the form of her daughter Kemaya, now 21, who is following in her mother’s footsteps; she is currently studying at Yale University, Connecticut, and will graduate soon. Following through with her own philosophy to facilitate women’s participating outside the household, Kidwai let Kemaya make her acting debut while she was still very young; Kemaya is also known for her film debut which was made through the film “Monsoon Wedding”, filmed when she was only 10 years old. Kidwai says she involved her daughter in her life instead of shutting her out, by always letting her know of her many work commitments. She comments, “Initially my work schedule would irritate Kemaya when she was 5 and 6, but we dealt with it by going out for celebratory dinners together once I finished”.