Take That, Mid-Life Crisis

40 Women to Watch Over 40 Who Put Age Stereotypes In Their Place


Co-authored by Christina Vuleta & Whitney Johnson

Mid-Life Crisis. The phrase typically conjures up new hairstyles, fast cars, tennis pros, a new job or younger spouse, possibly collateral damage, broken dreams and dead ends. Mid-life can be a crisis, but it can also be an opportunity. The fiction is that forty is past your prime. The fact is that it can be the beginning of your most productive era.

Three years ago, Whitney Johnson was just getting ready to publish Dare Dream Do and had shifted her focus from funding companies engaged in disruptive innovation as President of Clay Christensen’s Rose Park Advisors to encouraging personal disruption and investment. Meanwhile I had just started a mentoring network and consulting business. Through this work Whitney and I connected via what has come to be known as The Li.st, a community of women involved in technology, media and entrepreneurship. When I told Whitney I wanted to create a 40 over 40 list, we bonded over our desire to highlight the significant achievements and momentum of women over 40. As both of us looked around, we did not see women opting out and chucking their dreams, we saw women, including ourselves, getting scrappy and creating new dreams.

Two years and thousands of nominations later, we are in awe of the women who earned their spot on this list — some of whom you’ve heard of, many of whom you haven’t. What they all have in common is that they have more ahead of them than behind them. We are thrilled at the opportunity to inspire these 40-plus individuals to persist despite age stereotypes, while motivating women in their 20s and 30s to see new possibilities.

Contrary to popular opinion, the future does not belong only to the young. It is in all of our hands to create it. We aren’t out to out-do the under 40 movers and shakers, we just think it’s time to recognize the ‘over’ half who are also transforming the world. This year’s 40 honorees range in age from 40s to 70s.

Take that midlife crisis.

The list features entrepreneurs such Erin Newkirk, founder of Red Stamp, the top ranked lifestyle app that makes “modern correspondence” simple and beautiful. Since launching in 2005, Red Stamp has continually innovated, making it one of the most comprehensive mobile cards apps on the market.

Janelle Maiocco is creating momentum and early success with her first startup, Farmstr. The year-old company just raised $1.3 million from local angels and is quickly building out a marketplace that connects farmers to consumers. The platform removers the layers in distribution, reducing costs so farmers can sell fresh, local, organic food on the cheap.

There are activists, scientists, and artists. Rachel Sklar who as co-founder of Change The Ratio and TheLi.st has created a community of women who pull each other up and push each other out everyday, while bringing widespread, actionable awareness to the issues facing women entrepreneurs, women-led startups and women in the workplace.

Melissa Sterry is a futurist and design scientist who amongst other things is developing The Bionic City™, a sustainable smart city that transfers knowledge from Earth’s ecosystems to a blueprint for a metropolis with resilience to extreme meteorological and geological events.

Nancy Spector, who as Chief Curator of the Guggenheim Museum has increasingly become involved in expanding the museum as a site for social good, harnessing the creative activity of artists, musicians, dancers, performers, and architects to present a transformative and ethical platform.

Stacy Ratner, founder of Open Books, a social venture that funds literacy through creative capitalization, is providing innovative, and inspirational reading and writing programs to close to 5,000 Chicago students each year.

There are aslso women disrupting traditional organizations. Meredith Levien joined the New York Times a year ago as EVP, Advertising to breath new life into the grey lady. A pioneer of native advertising at Forbes, she is shifting the way the Times makes advertising revenue. The paid posts program launched in January and as of May, has eight advertisers participating with more joining in the next few months, It has also seen positive results in the way readers respond.

There are women applying their change-making passion to completely new areas, such as Ruth Ann Harnisch, a former Emmy-nominated television news anchor/reporter, radio talk show host, and Op/Ed columnist who now runs The Harnisch Family Foundation. Last year the foundation partnered with the Awesome Foundation Family to provide $1000 grants weekly to grantees with ideas and projects that solve a problem, promote community building, or spread joy.

The full list of winners and their equally impactful endeavors can be found at 40 Women To Watch Over 40.

The process of making the list has been equally inspiring as the women on the list. Over the past two years, the idea has quickly found support across generations and genders. We saw a fair number of nominations made by men. We were delighted to see both young and women eager to be involved. 20-somethings Molly Ford, a blogger and digital marketer, and Pooja Parthasarathy, a financial analyst, both joined the organizing committee to gain access to more varied mentors in their own lives and the desire to champion women in all stages of their career. And, 50-something Patti Finn Bumgardner came on-board to get inspiration to re-up her own career after ramping off as a mom.

Similarly, the external judging panel included a high caliber, diverse mix of both men and women:

· Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, author, NY Times Bestseller, Give & Take
· Binta Niambi Brown, lawyer, startup advisor, human rights advocate, Davos Young Global Leader
· Courtney Boyd-Myers, Founder, audience.io
· John Gerzema, NY Times Bestseller, The Athena Doctrine, Social Strategist
· Justin Stanwix, Director, Friends of eBay
· Vanu Bose, CEO/Founder of Vanu, Inc

The judging panel also included many of last year’s honorees.

We didn’t make it easy on them. Each judge reviewed the candidates based on a set of criteria that places value not only accomplishments but also forward movement and impact:

  • Impact: Are they creating growth or making in impact in their field of work, community and beyond?
  • Role Model: Is this person a positive role model, through mentoring, leading by example, innovating around work/ life issues or promoting women for leadership, whether in business, board rooms, building diverse communities?
  • Momentum: Does this person have more in front of them than behind them? Are they taking on new challenges and harnessing the power of their experiences?

Now, you be the judge!

Who of the 2014 honorees inspires you? Who would you recommend be nominated in 2015? Possibly yourself? Is 40, a time of crisis, or the opportunity of your life?
Christina & Whitney

About the co-creators:
In addition to co-founding Forty Over 40, Christina Vuleta partners in The Global Citizens, a consultancy focused on global research, brand strategy and transformative consumer insight. She also specializes in knowledge exchange between generations through her work with 40:20 Vision and 7x7 Mentoring.

Whitney Johnson: In addition to co-founding Forty over 40, Whitney Johnson is a co-founder and Managing Director of Springboard Fund, investing in high growth women-led businesses, and a co-founder of Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation Fund. She is a speaker and coach on the topic of innovation and investing, and has spoken to scores of audiences and more than 15,000 people.

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