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Age and Gender Bias? – Three Women Defying the Odds

gender and age bias

So, here’s a novel concept. What if we told you that many women over 50 are not allowing age or gender bias to stand in their way? Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because the fact is that there are now more women in this country over 50 than at any other time in our history. They are healthier, better educated, and don’t plan on disappearing just because they have reached a certain age. In fact, women are realizing that a number doesn’t have to define who they are or what they can do. See? We told you it was a novel concept (at least to men). BCT Partners profiles a few of the women leading the way and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot is a trailblazer in many ways. Not only did she win the Chicago Mayoral campaign by a landslide, but she also is a black woman over 50 and is the first openly gay person to lead the city. She is also only the second woman in history to become Mayor of Chicago. She started her campaign with little to no name recognition and was challenging the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, who still had a tremendous amount of clout in the city. She was not expected to win despite her outstanding qualifications. However, she did not let that stop her from entering the race with the conviction that she could lower the crime rate, improve the schools and ensure Chicago is a city that gives all its’ citizens equal opportunities. Prior to running for office, Lightfoot was a civic minded lawyer who also had been President of the Police Board, which is a civilian board responsible for making recommendations for, or against, disciplinary action on disputed cases of police misconduct. Under Lightfoot's leadership, the board became more active, firing officers in 72% of its cases. As Lightfoot settles into her new role as Mayor, it is probable that we will see more focus on the police and their approach to minorities. Thanks to women like Lightfoot, more women of color are running for office than ever before and according to a recent study, they are now highly electable.

Susan Zrinsky

While not a household name, Susan Zrinsky is a legend in broadcast journalism. She was the inspiration behind the character that Holly Hunt played in the movie Broadcast News. Now Susan Zirinsky, age 66, has become the first woman to lead CBS News. Despite having incredible qualifications including more than four decades at CBS as a broadcast journalist and an executive producer on “48 Hours,” Zrinsky is recognized as one of the hardest working people in television by her peers. She has won two Peabody Awards, several Emmy’s, the Edward R. Murrow Award and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Television & Film Awards. To top it off, she wakes up at 4:45 am every day and exercises seven days a week. That is almost as impressive as her credentials and her new job!

Donna Shalala

Donna Shalala from Florida became the oldest woman freshman to serve in the House of Representatives when she took office earlier this year at a young 78. A former academic who served as President of both the University of Miami and Hunter College, Representative Shalala also served as the 18th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1993 to 2001. On June 19, 2008, Shalala was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and in 2010 she received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. Additionally, she has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees. Shalala recently joined the Congressional softball team which is most likely also a record. Too old? Not anytime soon.

In summary, the women that we profiled are not only powerful, but they are also bucking the trend that women over 50 are obsolete. While there are plenty of people that still dismiss women over a certain age, that eventually has to change. With the average life span of women in the U.S. at 81.1, more women are choosing to work well into their 60s and 70s with almost a third of women age 65 to 69 now working. As Susan Douglas, a professor at the University of Michigan who is writing a book on the power of older women, said “a demographic revolution” is occurring. “Older women are now saying ‘No, I’m still vibrant, I still have a lot to offer, and I’m not going to be confined to invisibility.’ ” Here, here — Let’s “raise a toast” to that!

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