With International Women’s Day 2021 coming up on Monday, this year’s theme, “choose to challenge,” is timely, considering how women have largely shouldered the burdens that the global pandemic has piled on over the past year. Yet if we’re talking about choose to challenge in a wider context, face it: Women over 50 years old wrote the playbook.
Let’s start with what many women over 50 have lived through both in their personal lives and professional careers. For those born around 1960, here’s only the start: We’ll begin with the “stagflation” of the 1970s, the recession of the early 1980s, the early 1990s recession, the post-9/11 shock, the financial crises of 2008-2009 and, of course, the chaos this pandemic has fomented. That resilience helps explain why one recent report suggested that many women over 50 have few, if any, qualms about starting their own businesses.
Many women over 50 have also lived their lives during the “no women’s land” era of the fight for full gender equality. That is, they are too young to remember when women’s options were limited to only a few careers and later, when — gasp! — the Mary Tyler Moore Show broke new ground by focusing on a 30-something single woman with a career and who was fine with it. Yet they do remember a time when only two women were in the U.S. Senate and very few women were in the C-suite, let alone served as a CEO. Many were also of a working age when Anita Hill’s allegations sparked days of live television news coverage, which largely portrayed her as more of a villain than a truth-teller. Their education and early career years came at a time when there was no talk about STEM, diversity or much discussion about “knowing your value.”
Their reality, and their years of experience, steeled these women to become the force they are today. While our youth-obsessed culture tends to focus on millennials and Gen Xers who many have lauded for their trailblazing, doing-it-differently ways, the fact is that women over 50 built those same roads currently enjoyed by younger generations.
“The women I know aren’t declining. They’re getting stronger and more engaged in careers, often second careers they love. They are starting businesses. Some are taking greater risks, often to make a greater impact,” Elizabeth MacBride wrote for Forbes two years ago.
The statistics back up MacBride’s claims. True, overall the pandemic has not been kind to women in their 50s. But over the past several years, the number of entrepreneurs in the U.S. who are over 50 years old keeps increasing, and their share currently stands at a steady one out of four. Assuming mass vaccination and herd immunity brings a renewed sense of normalcy, there’s no reason to think such trends cannot continue.
Now, these women are getting their due. Forbes, for example, will announce its “50 Over 50” this summer, and we can expect women who have earned their seat at the C-suite “boys club” will be among those on the list. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski has launched a “Know Your Value” series that showcases the accomplishments of women over 50.
But for many of these woman, they’ve known their value all along, and are still choosing to cash in on it. And they can cash in because they are strong in ways others fall short: experience and perspective.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.