Balaka Niyazee, Procter & Gamble’s Korea vice president, is at the forefront of Asian women corporate leaders and her husband Kausar Niyazee has had a large part to play in her success. They make marriage look easy, but share that it needs some work too.
We are in it together
Having worked in India, Ireland, Singapore and South Korea, the Niyazees complement each other and share the load in the true essence of the term, both at home and at work. For instance, early in her career, Balaka had to travel extensively and Kausar made it a point to wake up before her and get ready to drop her to and pick her up from the airport. “It is a small gesture but means a lot to her, she feels that she is not alone in it. It is not so much about the physical labour part but the ‘you are with me in it’, that matters.”
Lend me a hand
At the time we meet, Balaka is troubled by a sore throat but Kausar offers to lend a voice. For a couple who “knew each other 10 years before marriage”, the Niyazees had a lot of common interests and knew each other very well by the time they decided to get married.
After marriage, running the household was not that demanding, says Balaka. “We were in Mumbai, so we had help. When we left India for Ireland was the first time that he realised that a house needs to be run!”
Kausar, an ex APAC software leader at CISCO, joins in, “Being brought up in a traditional Indian way, Indian man barely step into the kitchen… it was a huge shock for me to be in a country where no house help was available. We had to start thinking differently, it took us some time but we ended up doing very well because above all, we are friends first. It was easy for her to tell me that you have to do this and for me to say I can’t, and the other way round. Things fell in place for us.”
When in Rome, live as the Romans do
The Niyazees make it a point to blend into the culture of the place they are living in. So when in Ireland they “lived an Irish life”, now that they are in Korea, they live a Korean life. Says Balaka: “We normally tend to be closer to the culture we live in. For example, in Korea, people want to be extremely fit, even in -22 degree centigrade they are jogging. So we try to emulate, we make Korean friends, eat Korean food and eat it the way they do. It is not easy to try out these things, but culturally, we are very open to new things.”
A shared bond
What helps is the empathy from Kausar. “Luckily I grew up amongst women—my mother, granny, aunt, and sister,” he says. “My dad was mostly out working. Though my mother did not allow me to help in the household chores but I got to see them at work. Perhaps that is why I am sensitive to this. It has helped us manage our dual careers well.”
Being “privileged to see some very strong women make very important decisions around the house” made Kausar realise that “not only are women equally adept but in certain situations they are better than men”.
Balaka agrees that even now he tries to help where he can. “He can’t cook but he can make tea. When I have had a hard day, he offers to make me a cup of tea, and though we have house help it is very different when it comes from him.”
Bringing up their child is also a shared responsibility for this couple. “I was trying to manage Samaira’s (daughter) homework, but by the time I come home it is past her dinner time, so it is too late for her. His work allows him to be home earlier. So he is now taking over the home study part and they are doing much better with a dad-daughter bonding.”
Working on staying positive
Balaka confesses to feelings of guilt though. “I feel guilty very often. It is not that we have worked out everything, there are still teething troubles.” She has felt torn for missing out on school events but gives herself a “positive talk” every time the pangs strike.
“I want to be a role model for my daughter, the same goes for you,” she advises mothers facing a similar dilemma. “When they see you trying to be a good mother, they look up to you, they learn to be independent and turn out to be better than you.”
Build a support system to fall back on
They agree that beyond the planning, all this would not have been possible without a support system. “We have a nanny, my parents are around to oversee, and we are very techy so we are well-connected,” details out Balaka.
Career, no pause
“You have to focus on getting the work done. In my entire career, no manager has asked me ‘where are you’, it has become ingrained that it is important to get work done, the where and how are not important,” adds Kausar. In a world of flexi timings and remote work, managing lives has become easier in a way.
Balaka who has been with P&G close to 20 years now, praises the company’s support to her career. “If I’m very clear about what I want to do, and stay flexible on the how, the company has a huge support system. We have access to good mentorship or sponsorship at every level, for instance.”
“The second thing is that it offers flexibility in terms of how, where and when we do the work. We do have some core working hours but we trust that we are all adults and will deliver our objectives.”
“Personally what has worked for me is that whenever I was anticipating any change in family life, for instance before I had Samaira, I worked in advance with my managers and planned my career accordingly. I hope to see other companies do the same. We have to do it as a society, not as one company.”
What works for you in your partnership? How do you #ShareTheLoad? Write to us at [email protected]