Honoring grandmothers for International Women’s Day

Author with her grandmothers
Source: author photos and Canva

For International Women’s Day, I’m proud to encourage participation in the Mars #HereToBeHeard campaign. Women across the globe are invited to share “What needs to change so more women can reach their full potential?” We’re gathering insights from this initiative (in collaboration with Oxford University) to help drive action and change towards the world we want tomorrow.

As I consider this future, I also reflect on my family’s history. Both my grandmothers were role models, although in different ways. One forged the path of a female warrior, and one cared for others above her own needs. Each inspires me with her choices.

They started with similar beginnings, born in Shanghai province and fleeing after the 1949 Communist party takeover. As I was growing up, neither of them volunteered stories about that tumultuous time, as if the government could still punish them for their perceived “betrayal.” Now they’re no longer here for me to ask them about their experiences, but the legacy of their actions and achievements is inspiring.

My father’s mother, Louise, was a strong-minded business-woman, blazing a trail ahead of her time. Before the Communists took power in 1949, she was the president of one of the largest bank chains in Shanghai, the financial capital of China.

Consider the conversations we’re having 75 years later about female leadership in c-suites. I imagine that she scoffed at glass ceilings and proved her worth with her famous steely-eyed determination. She strode through the world on her terms.

Then, when the political climate became unstable, she devised a safe route to Hong Kong for her children and herself. This paved the way for them to emigrate to New York in the 1960’s. Grandma Louise remained larger-than-life through her final days.

In contrast, my mother’s mother, whom we called Nabu, didn’t work outside the home. Still, her life wasn’t devoid of courageous moments. First, she found herself with three young children stranded in Taiwan when the borders to China closed. She and my grandfather couldn’t have foreseen that they’d just lost access to all their belongings and wealth in Shanghai, with only their travel cases to call their own. Yet, she never complained of that period with bitterness.

When an opportunity arose to move to the US, she embraced the chance to improve her family’s life. She spoke no English and knew no one in her new country. Yet, I picture her facing the upheaval as an adventure, with her customary cheer and optimism. Until her last days, she straddled both worlds with grace, loving her life in California, while immersing in familiar foods and traditions from China. I’ll forever remember Nabu’s home-whisked scallion pancakes and hand-rolled dumplings as an expression of love.

This International Women’s Day, I honor my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother sought the best path for her family, even if it meant a patchwork of three countries to call home, and did so with grace and kindness. My paternal grandmother defied the status quo of male leadership in 1940’s China, and thereby shaped her own destiny.

I’m proud to build on their legacies, and carve a new path. When it’s appropriate, I’m determined and capable like Grandma Louise. And I balance that with Nabu’s care for others. In fact, with her love of food, she was always proud that I worked for Mars, Incorporated.

Perhaps this Women’s Day, we can all find moments to call upon our inner female warrior, while prioritizing our care for others.

Let me know the ways this is true in your life, so we can celebrate and lift each other up!


About the Author:

Carol Van Den Hende is a global corporate strategist at Mars Incorporated, an MBA, speaker, Climate Reality Leader and the author of the award-winning novel Goodbye, Orchid. Her fiction has been awarded nine times, including the Royal Dragonfly award for disability awareness.

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