In our minds, there are 71 million women of the year. That’s the U.S. population of women over the age of 45, and we know that women in this age group are making a difference in the culture in big and small ways. We are the ones with experience, wisdom, and something that seems to come to us more easily than to men: compassion. (You know it’s true.)
“You put boys together, they make war. You put women together, they make peace. Women are the leaders of the future,” the Dalai Lama himself said earlier this year. His words are part of a growing chorus of voices (including Barak Obama’s) that women can and should run the world.
“One of the greatest under-appreciated sources of innovation and new business may in fact be women over 50 with new ideas, lots of life ahead of them and with the verve to get it done,” said Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That under-appreciated part? Well, fixing that is one of the main reasons for NextTribe’s existence.
But how do we pick just 12 of the 71 million to shine the spotlight on? We’ve sifted through our stories from this past year and recalled transformative women we’ve met at our events and trips. We also have welcomed nominations from you, dear readers, and here are some true stars we want to applaud. Won’t you give them a hand too!
Nicole Hockley: Keeping Up the Pressure on Guns
“It’s Generation Lockdown,” says 48-year-old Nicole Hockley, the co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, which this year produced an incredibly affecting public service announcement about the sad, new normal in schools today. It showed students anticipating not just classes and crushes, but the possibility of a shooter bursting through the classroom door armed with a boosted military-style rifle.
Hockley lost her son Dylan in Sandy Hook, and ever since she has committed herself to fighting for gun-safety measures that will help to prevent another senseless tragedy. Her resolve intensified after the Parkland shootings. She’s not going anywhere, and we feel better knowing that.
Ricki Fairley: “God Left Me Here To Talk About Breasts”
We had two chances to get to know Ricki Fairley this year. First, she was part of the NextTribe panel at SXSW called “How Midlife Women Work Their Entrepreneurial Mojo.” Fairley started her own firm, Dove Marketing, after 30 years working in corporate America. And she did this while undergoing treatment for triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types.
Originally given two years to live, she is now an eight-year survivor. Fairley, 62, has made it her personal mission to raise awareness and fundraise for a cure for breast cancer. She serves as chair of the board of trustees for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. In June 2019, she founded the Sisters Network, which works to increase awareness of breast cancer and reduce the mortality rate in the African American community. Her story of survival and recovery moved us so much that we invited her to be a featured speaker at our Out Loud event in New York City in October.
“You shouldn’t have to go through what I went through to live your truth, to live your passion,” Fairley told our audience of 200. “But I realized God left me here to talk about breasts, to look after other people’s breasts.”
Jane Fonda: Putting Her Star Power on the Line for Climate Change
How does this woman keep doing it: Reinventing herself and staying hyper-relevant? Jane Fonda at 81 is certainly a role model for aging boldly. She’s lived many extraordinary lives as an actress, an entrepreneur, and activist; she’s done wrong (visiting North Vietnam) and apologized for it. How many of us could so publicly own up to our mistakes?
Through it all, nothing has deterred her from speaking out for what she thinks is right. For much of the fall, she was protesting every Friday in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., urging Congress to end fossil-fuel exploration and was arrested several times (one night she even spent the night in jail). “I’ve got all the cockroaches [in the jail] on a first name basis,” she says. We hate cockroaches, so our awe only grows.
Julie K. Brown: Her Dogged Search for the Truth Brought Down Jeffrey Epstein
One of the biggest stories of the year (that didn’t directly involve the person in the White House) was the arrest and later death of Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who had long groomed and sexually abused under-age females—without suffering the consequences. A Miami Herald reporter, Julie K. Brown, 57, is the person responsible for bringing Epstein to justice, even when he seemed untouchable thanks to his protection from powerful players.
Brown found and interviewed women who said that in the past, they were part of Epstein’s depraved sex trafficking. Many of these women were dealing with a swirl of intense emotions; she supported them and helped them be heard. She gathered reams of information and insight—so much so that it filled a spare room in her house. “This is a search for the truth,” Julie has said. “This is about sexual abuse and power and people who cover it up.” Thank you, Julie Brown.
Roma Torre: Who the Hell Says Older Women Shouldn’t Be on TV News?
Roma Torre is an Emmy-winning TV news anchor who has been on the air at her station, NY1, since 1992, when she was the first on-air employee. But despite her longevity and awards, Torre, 61, was getting paid less than her male counterparts and receiving fewer job perks. So she sued the station along with five other women on the grounds that NY1 had “blatantly marginalized them and cast them aside in favor of younger women and men.”
Torre told NextTribe: “We have filed this case not only to prevent further discrimination against us, but to start the process of undoing the deep-rooted belief that older women on TV are dispensable in the hope that the next wave of female journalists will not have to face this form of mistreatment.”
Linda Garcia: Standing Up to Big Oil, Saving Her Neighborhood
Linda Garcia, 51, used to live in a neighborhood called Fruit Valley, which literally sits on the other side of the tracks from the rest of Vancouver, Washington. In 2013, when she found out that a large oil shipping facility was slated to be built in Fruit Valley, she knew she couldn’t sit by. A long-time advocate for the homeless and environmental justice, Garcia led opposition to the project and in February 2018, she and other residents were able to put a stop to the facility. For her work, Garcia was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, which every year honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America.
The prize committee had this to saw about Garcia: “Her activism safeguarded residents from harmful air pollution and protected the environment of the Columbia River Gorge. By preventing North America’s largest oil terminal from being built, Garcia halted the flow of 11 million gallons of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Washington.”
Fiona Hill & Marina Yovanovitch: The Grown Ups in the Room
These two women kept us feeling sane during the impeachment hearings. As much of the country seems to be losing its grasp on reality, Fiona Hill, top, and Marina Yovanovitch displayed a serene faith in facts and a refreshing impatience for drama, partisanship, and stupidity. Never have we cheered so hard to see someone (two someones) refuse to suffer fools–when foolery is about all we’ve been getting from Washington lately.
How heavenly that the world seemed to be swooning over two smart women over the age of 5o. Politico called Hill a “national treasure;” the New Yorker deemed her “brilliant.” This is what the Atlantic said about Yovanovitch: “Calm and organized, emotional but not angry, Yovanovitch projected a kind of steady professionalism that silenced the room.” She even showed her steel by enduring Trump’s bullying in real time, on live national TV. Class act all the way.
Margaret Moss: Confronting the Tragic American Indian Health Crisis
Here are some harsh realities: Native Americans die at higher rates than other Americans in many disease categories. Their infant death rate is 60 percent higher than that for whites. And American Indian women are murdered or disappear at 10 times the national average.
One woman has dedicated her life’s work to changing this and saving her people: Margaret Moss, PhD, the director of First Nations House of Learning at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver. A member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, she speaks all over the world, trying to bring attention to the tragedy that is American Indian health. And to the high rate of murdered and missing American Indian women and girls.
Though there is still a lot of work to be done, Moss, 61, sees progress. “I have a lot of people writing to me, asking questions, which is a healthy sign,” she says. “No one was even asking the questions before.”
Rochelle Weitzner & Sonsoles Gonzalez: Beauty Entrepreneurs Who Really “Get” Us
On surveys, in comments on social media, in emails, we have heard loud and clear that you get extremely frustrated with brands that ignore the existence of anyone born before the founding of Apple Computers. Well, change may be afoot. This year, two former beauty executives have launched their own brands designed particularly with us in mind.
Rochelle Weitzner, top, used to be the CEO of Erno Laszlo and the CFO of Laura Mercier Cosmetics. She came up with the idea for a skin care line called Pause Well-Aging after her first hot flash prompted a WTF moment. The line is specifically formulated for three different stages of menopause—perimenopause, menopause (the main event), and post menopause, which goes on for the rest of our lives, apparently.
Over the 25 years Sonsoles Gonzalez, 54, spent working on haircare brands for Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal, she noticed, with growing alarm, that women over 45 simply disappeared from the radar of big beauty firms. She is addressing that oversight with her company Better Not Younger—a line for our older hair. And both have wrapped their companies around a mission to advocate for women like us.
Regina King: Making Good Use of Her Big Microphone
Who can forget Regina King’s emotional acceptance speech at the Golden Globes earlier this year, after winning the award for actress in a drama film for Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk? “The reason why we do this is because we understand that our microphones are big and we are speaking for everyone,” said King, 48. “And I just want to say that I’m going to use my platform right now to say in the next two years, everything that I produce, I’m making a vow—it’s going to be tough—to make sure that everything that I produce is 50 percent women.”
King, who also won rave reviews this year for her star turn in HBO’s Watchmen, became the first celebrity to commit to Time’s Up’s “4% Challenge,” which urges industry leaders to hire more women directors. That’s leadership.