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Introducing The 50 Over 50: Women Proving Success Has No Age Limit

by Narges Mohammadi

Mounted near the center of the U.S. Capitol Building, flanked by imposing columns and presiding over Statuary Hall, is a marble rendering of Clio, Greek mythology’s muse of history. In her hands is a scroll for recording events, the message to members of Congress, obvious: History is watching their every move. At her feet is a clock. As the myth goes, Clio didn’t merely record mankind’s deeds or heroic accomplishments. She honored the passage of time.

On a warm Tuesday in late April, a group of photographers, journalists and floral designers assembled under Clio’s visage for a project very much in her spirit: the 50 Over 50, a new initiative from Forbes with Mika Brzezinski’s Know Your Value platform that shines a light on women who are stepping into their power over the age of 50, 60, 70 or, as was the case for our photography subject that day, 80.

“People make their own decisions about their timing, and they don’t have to comply with somebody else’s view of how that should be,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told us. “It’s about what works for them.” Now 81, Pelosi knows a thing or two about waiting for the right timing: She didn’t even run for Congress until she was 47 years old, and became America’s first female Speaker of the House at the age of 66.

The 50 Over 50 is a collection of women who, like the speaker, aren’t letting societal expectations dictate their professional time lines. They’re rejecting the conventional wisdom that their best years are behind them, and in so doing, they’re leading a movement: We received more than 10,000 submissions for this list of 50 people. The final 50 was whittled down from more than 10,000 submissions with insight from three rock-star judges: Grameen CEO Andrea Jung; fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg; and Act One founder and one of America’s richest self-made women, Janice Bryant Howroyd. 

We assessed the list based on three main criteria: achievements after turning 50; success at scale (founders and CEOs of for-profit companies must drive a minimum of $20 million in annual revenue); and a pay-it-forward mindset. Many of these women aren’t just working to advance their own careers; they’re using their platforms to make life better for future generations.

We reviewed every submission, awestruck by the care that so many people took in nominating their loved ones, colleagues and mentors for this list. 

The accomplishments of the women within the final 50 are nothing short of dazzling: Consider Vice President Kamala Harris, who at 56 is the first woman, first Black and first Asian American to hold that office and is now the first in line for the presidency. Or Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, who at 53 became the first woman to take the helm of one of America’s biggest banks, and Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng, who at 52 became the first woman to run a Major League Baseball team. And there are many, many more.

In a moment when a global pandemic has pushed a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce—and forced hundreds of thousands into too-early retirements—it is our hope that the stories of the women on this list resonate, inform and inspire. 

Many of these stories include women who have survived similarly difficult moments. Julie Wainwright was the CEO of Pets.com at the height of the dot-com bubble; on the day she had to shut the company down, her husband asked for a divorce. At 53, she started over, founding luxury online consignment retailer The RealReal. The company went public in 2019, and is now worth more than $1 billion.

“Clearly, I’m not going to be able to get my dream job from someone else,” Wainwright, now 64, recalls thinking in the months following Pets.com’s demise. “I’m going to have to create my own.”

Wainwright exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit and resilience we looked for when compiling this list. Just like Cathie Wood, the founder of Ark Invest (who, at 65, is one of the gutsiest investors on Wall Street), and Shonda Rhimes, the 51-year-old Shondaland founder who smashed Netflix’s streaming records with the December debut of her show, Bridgerton. Wainwright, Wood and Rhimes join Vice President Harris on the cover of the magazine—the first time in Forbes’ history that multiple single-subject covers have featured all women. Their indomitable faces are a beacon for the generations of girls and women coming up behind them.

“I always find these young women who have been conditioned to believe or to speak of themselves in ways that make them smaller,” Rhimes says. “It drives me bonkers.” 

Rhimes’ advice to go big is far better than the advice women have heard for centuries, which is often given with these urgent caveats: “Do this before it’s too late” or “The clock is ticking.” These messages are clear: There is a prime moment, and then there is “after”—and the after does not matter. 

The 50 Over 50 proves this is fundamentally not true. There is no deadline for success or fulfillment, just as there is no one path everyone needs to follow. As the editor of this package and an Under 50 woman, it’s a welcome lesson. Their stories are important reminders that while we can’t control every circumstance, we can control our actions; failures can make for beautiful opportunities; and experience can fuel a more vibrant career than your younger self could have ever imagined. 

These stories, by the way, don’t end here. Because we were so impressed by the thousands of nominations for this list, we’ll be putting out three more iterations of this package over the course of the summer. We want to give credit to the women over 50 who are making an impact in law, policy and education; the women over 50 who are technological and artistic visionaries; and the women over 50 who are financial rainmakers. The first of these spotlights will be released in July.

As Clio reminds us: Everything happens in due time. And that’s something worth honoring. 


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