The inaugural Forbes 50 Over 50 list, produced in collaboration with Mika Brzezinski and her “Know Your Value” initiative, shines a spotlight on women who started businesses or supercharged their careers after age 50. They have broken barriers in male-dominated industries, founded million or billion-dollar businesses, taken the helm of critical nonprofits and advocacy organizations, and are creating change from City Hall to the White House.
Though they work across industries, many of the listees have similar stories of being one of a few women in the room, facing adversities and obstacles, juggling careers and caregiving, and changing career paths well into their 50s. While many of these women have been the first to shatter glass ceilings, they are taking an active role in ensuring they aren’t the last.
“Step on stage and take command; your strength will become increasingly palpable as you realize that you are now the star of your new direction and life.”
We spoke to five of the women on this year’s list to find out their number one piece of advice for other women who hope to start a business or catapult their careers after 50.
Anna Maria Chávez
Age 53 | Executive Director and CEO, National School Boards Association
Last June, at age 52, Chávez was appointed to lead the nonprofit educational organization that represents the nation’s more than 50 million public school students. No stranger to nonprofits, she was an executive at The National Council on Aging from 2017 to 2020 and the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 2011 to 2016.
Chávez’s best advice for supercharging your career after 50 is to not let fear be a barrier from making a change. “As women, we spend too much of our life before turning 50 being afraid of being criticized or having people disparage our decisions. If you’ve dreamed of opening your own business or going back to school to get a divinity degree, do it now,” she says. “Trust yourself and every lesson you have learned in your first five decades of life.”
If you haven’t loved the first decades of your career, Chávez says to pivot your role or make a complete career change so you spend the next five decades doing something you love.
Age 60 | Cofounder and CEO, TomboyX
In 2013, at age 52, Dunaway and her wife, Naomi Gonzalez, cofounded the gender-neutral underwear and loungewear company TomboyX out of their garage to make quality button-down shirts. In 2014, they listened to customer requests and made their first boxer briefs. The boxer briefs quickly became a best-seller and they pivoted to focus on bras and underwear now available in sizes XS to 6X. Last year, sales jumped 50% to $24 million. Dunaway’s best advice is to network and find a mentor, no matter your age.
“You’ve got great experience and maturity that companies need, so find access points to the industries you are interested in,” she says. “The more specific you are in your wants and desires, the easier it is to make the important connections you need.”
Age 56 | Commissioner, WNBA
In 2019, at age 56, Engelbert was named commissioner of America’s oldest professional women’s sports league. It wasn’t her first big role after 50. In 2015, after nearly three decades at Deloitte, she was promoted to CEO. As she says, her “anything but linear” career path demonstrates the ways in which people can evolve their careers after 50.
“The opportunities come about because you can bring a significant amount of perspective, experience, and wisdom,” says Engelbert. “A career does not have to be a straight line forward or a relentless advance in one direction. In fact, pursuing a non-linear career will often allow you to find more leadership opportunities, develop new strengths and reimagine yourself.”
Age 69 | CEO, American Red Cross
In 2008, at age 56, McGovern was selected to head the leading nonprofit emergency response and blood donation agency that delivers critical resources worldwide. She was tasked with using her decades of business experience, including leadership roles at Fidelity Investments and AT&T, to make the now 140-year-old organization more effective. Under McGovern’s direction the Red Cross has strengthened its finances and expanded its relief efforts.
“I’ve pivoted many times in my career and my advice to women – whether they are under 50 or more senior in their careers – is to pursue your passion, don’t get too hung up on how fast you are progressing, develop a network of colleagues and mentors and always push yourself to learn more. Most importantly, don’t fret about your age,” she says. “Age 50 is a time when you will be wiser, more experienced and better able to not sweat the small stuff,” McGovern says.
Age 63 | Founder and CEO, Miyoko’s Creamery
In 2014, at age 57, Schinner founded vegan cheese company Miyoko’s Creamery from her California kitchen. Now she manages a 200-person team and her plant-based cheese and butter is sold in more than 29,000 stores.
Many women spend their lives taking care of loved ones and, in their 50s, may realize they have room to grow in their own personal and professional lives, Schinner says. If, like Schinner, there is something you want to start, jump in.
“Once you stop to listen and look within, you will realize how absolutely powerful, wise, and resilient you have actually become,” she says. “Don’t let the self-doubt of earlier decades get in the way. You will soon realize that was all rubbish. Step on stage and take command; your strength will become increasingly palpable as you realize that you are now the star of your new direction and life.”