Age is but a number, as the famous saying goes, and the person who said it first was Joan Collins. An English actress, known for her bombshell portraits on the soap opera dynasty, Joan was the first woman to break barriers of age. We often talk about sexism and racism but what about ageism? The prejudice or discrimination against people based on their age?
According to the AARP, about 35 percent of the U.S population is now 50 or older. Yet in 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the nation’s workforce watchdog — issued a damning special report on age discrimination against older Americans. It concluded that even though 50 years had passed since Congress outlawed the practice, “age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families and our economy.”
In many organizations, people are evaluated based on their “runway” – their ability to stay at the same level or rise higher as they age. Women are especially discriminated against on the basis of age, in addition to being discriminated against on the basis of sex. Yet, many women make their most extraordinary contributions after they turn 50. Our goal is to debunk the myth that when you are at 50, you are looking at the end of your career. We want to show you that sometimes your best work comes when you are 50 or older.
Of course, you are never too old or never too young to change the world. You could be as young as Greta Thunberg to feel passionate about climate change, or as old as Mother Theresa to change the fortunes of millions of poor people.
“In India and many South Asian cultures, we value the insight that comes from the mouth
of babes and at the same time cherish the experience and wisdom of people who have wisdom to impart,” says Seema Kumar, founder of SEEMA, a mission to empower South Asian women of all ages. Often, the best years are ahead of us and that’s why I feel that we, as a South Asian society, should honor women who are breaking barriers about age,”
This March, as we honor Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day and celebrate the third anniversary of SEEMA launch, we celebrate 50 women over 50 who are making history.
Curated by the SEEMA team, this is a collection of women who are in their fifth decade and redefining leadership and make a difference for women overall and for the women in our community, especially during these tough and uncertain times…
In arts and science, business, politics and philanthropy, these women are making the world a better place, one step at a time, and this article showcases how age is not a barrier and in fact can be the enabler to making a difference in this world.
Welcome to our 50/50 list and hope you enjoy this list and do nominate more women for our living list of women who are making a difference, regardless of age.
Former Chairman, Pepsico
Indra Nooyi is the first Indian woman to become the CEO of a global company, and its first female leader in its 42-year history. When she stepped down in 2019, she nearly doubled PepsiCo’s revenues from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017.
Ullal is an American billionaire businesswoman, president and CEO of Arista Networks, a cloud networking company which was just 4 years old with 50 employees when she led it from zero to a multibillion-dollar business.
Jayapal is the U.S. representative from Washington’s 7th congressional district. She’s the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, her district’s first female member of Congress, and also the first Asian American to represent Washington federally.
Vice President, United States of America
Vice President Kamala Harris is a serial barrier breaker and symbol for American diversity assuming leadership during some of America’s toughest times. She is the first woman, the first African- American and the first Indian- American to hold the nation’s second-highest office.
Former Health Minister of Kerala, India
In Kerala’s war against the Nipah virus and then Covid-19, the state had a tough general in its health minister, K.K. Shailaja, who led valiantly from the front. This earned her the support and love of her people, international attention and a cover in Vogue.
Indian economist, women’s rights activist, and social entrepreneur Shruti Kapoor is among the most influential women in global policy and the founder of Sayfty, an NGO empowering young women and girls in India against all forms of violence.
Radha Bharadwaj is a multitalented filmmaker whose highly- acclaimed films lift up its Indian and indigenous characters. Her work is both technically superlative, and creates dramatic emotional responses from people of color from all over the world.
Auriel Majumdar is a teacher, thinker, poet and speaker specializing in leadership and personal development and helps women of all career stages overcome their limiting beliefs to achieve success in leadership positions.
Science News publisher
Recipient of the Public Service Award, Ajmera currently leads the Society for Science & the Public. She is the founder of the Global Fund for Children (GFC), which has awarded nearly $50 million to over 700 grassroots organizations, impacting over 11 million children worldwide.
Children’s Rights Activist
Nandana Dev Sen is an accomplished actor, writer, and child-rights activist. She has acted in over 20 feature films from three continents. She supports child rights via numerous organizations and is also the ambassador for child protection for Save the Children India.
Jyotsna Srinivasan is a school teacher and an award-winning author whose books focus on the immigrant experience. She runs Second Generation Stories, a site featuring book lists and reviews of fiction and memoir by children of Ame
Vice President and Executive Editor at Crown Publishing
Media whiz Madhulika Sikka is dizzyingly successful. As a journalist, she has a slew of Emmys, duPonts, and Peabody awards to her name. She has also played seminal roles in major media entities across the world including The Daily Beast, WNYC, Penguin Random House, NPR, CBS and PUBS.
Preethi Pratap is a missiles engineer and chief engineer at Raytheon Technologies. She has been an educator and scientist at the forefront of physics for decades, and an ardent advocate of girls taking up the sciences.
CRY President and Policy Director
Sunderlal has held leadership positions at CRY India and Cry America for over 30 years, leading the latter since 2002. Under her leadership, CRY America has grown its supporter base to 25,153 donors, 2000 volunteers and has impacted the lives of 733,684 underprivileged children across India & the USA.
Founder, Marketplace India
Pushpika Freitas’ idea of fair trade does not stop at economic empowerment. Her organization, Market Place, co-run with her sister Lalita Monteiro, aims to enable women to have a voice in their families, communities and businesses. They have achieved this goal for 400 artisans organized into 11 independent co-operatives.
Matchmaker and Dating Coach
South Asians are told “don’t date” until you’re of marriageable age, and then suddenly expected to settle down and marry. Ahluwalia runs a one-of-a-kind, premier dating and matchmaking firm for South Asian singles in the west that hits the sweet spot.
Executive Director, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA
Through Ekal Vidyalaya, which runs over 100,000 schools, Saigal has impacted over 2.8 million children in rural and tribal areas in India and Nepal. She is also an honored contributor to Indian Heritage and Fine Arts in Massachusetts.
DR. RANJANI RAO
Dr. Ranjani Rao is a scientist, writer, and co-founder of her own publishing house, Story Artisan Press. Author of a memoir on life after divorce, her writing brings forth an important voice among South Asian women abroad.
CEO, The Giving Back Foundation
The Giving Back Foundation is an international non-profit alleviating illness, poverty and suffering worldwide. She and her foundation have been the recipients of outstanding accolades for the scale and impact of their humanitarian work.
Founder, Indo-American Arts Council
Known as the czarina of South Asian art abroad, Shivdasani has initiated the first Indian Literary Festival, the first Playwrights’ Festival of the Indian diaspora, the first Indian Dance Festival, and the first Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora in North America.
Sahni is an entrepreneur, activist, chef, educator, and food and beverage consultant, and the culinary mastermind for several Michelin-starred New York City restaurants. She has worked at several famous and beloved South Asian restaurants, including Devi, Tulsi and Saar.
Jayati Ghosh is an outspoken Indian development economist whose contributions to the world both academically and personally are great. She was the principal author of the West Bengal Human Development Report and received the United Nations Development Program Prize for excellence in analysis.
Sonia Mughal is the first woman CEO, Bailard, Inc, a 52-year-old wealth and assets management firm in the Bay Area. She also serves as a member of the Forbes Finance Council.
Beauty and Wellness Expert, Entrepreneur
Shahnaz Husain is a household name in South Asia, and internationally recognized for pioneering the herbal beauty movement. She is the winner of the Padma Shri, one of the highest national accolades in India.
DR. NERMEEN VARAWALLA
CMO, Relief Therapeutics
Dr Nermeen Varawalla, MD, PhD, MBA is an outstanding entrepreneur in the biomedical sector. She is now the chief medical officer at Relief, a biopharmaceutical company seeking to “provide patients therapeutic relief from serious diseases with high unmet needs.”
DR. ASHA RAO
Mathematician, Associate Dean, RMIT
Dr. Asha Rao, associate dean, RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) describes herself as a transdisciplinary researcher. She has contributed significantly in developing solutions for cybercrime fraud and money laundering through her applications of mathematics. She represents RMIT at the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Meeting in Vienna.
Leena Nair is the first female and the youngest global CEO of Chanel. An ex Chief Human Resource Officer at Unilever where she oversaw inclusion and diversity of over 190 countries, she has always preferred an employee-centric approach for organization welfare.
Gita Gopinath is the First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF and an inspiring economist. Prior to this she was an economy professor at Harvard University. Named as one of the top 25 economists by IMF, she was also conferred upon the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award.
Payal Sharma is the co- founder of the trendy Baar Baar, a conceptual, modern Indian dining place in Midtown, NY. When the pandemic hit, she was quick to adapt to ‘food that travels’– ‘to-go’ $10 drinks and a compact $30 meal pack.
Executive Director South Asian Council for Social Services
President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, community leader, and social worker Sudha Acharya is a tireless champion of the South Asian community in the U.S., helping those who fall out of the “model minority” group to thrive.
Dancer, choreographer, entrepreneur, educator, and culture activist, Anita Ratnam is incredibly inspiring. Her performances are Indian in spirit but very contemporary in approach and often steeped in her traditional roots. She founded the Arangham Trust and Narthaki.com.
President, US-India Business Council
Nisha Biswal, president, US–India Business Council, helps the U.S. government and India’s business focus on a common goal. Through her work she hopes to create a safer and secure world with greater opportunities for everyone.
DR. SOUMYA SWAMINATHAN
Chief Scientist, WHO
Dr. Swaminathan is the first Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization from March 2019. Known for her extensive research in HIV and tuberculosis, she has been a pediatrician for 30 years and is passionate about translating medical research into practice.
KIRAN MAZUMDAR- SHAW
Chairperson and Founder, Biocon Biologics, Biocon Limited
India’s “biotech queen” Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a self-made billionaire. Once a brewmaster, now she is India’s fourth richest woman and recipient of innumerable awards for her innovative efforts in industrial biotechnology. She funds many philanthropic initiatives in education and health.
Vice President, Syntel
Neerja Sethi, vice president of Syntel, was ranked 21st in Forbes America’s Richest Self-Made Women in 2018, with a net worth of $1 billion. With an initial investment of $2,000, Syntel, an IT consulting company, brought in $924 million in revenues during 2017.
Diplomat and Politician
Nikki Haley has made many ‘firsts’ in her political career. She was South Carolina’s first female governor, the first Indian- American woman in a presidential cabinet, and the U.S.’s first female U.N. ambassador.
CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet and teacher of writing. Inspired by Contemporary America, her multicultural life, myth, her stories are vivid and perceptive. Her work has been published in over 50 magazines and translated into 29 languages.
Founder, Rangam Consultants
Hetal Parikh is on a mission to make employment accessible. Her organization, Rangam Consultants, is a minority and disability-owned workforce with clients spanning all industries. SourceAbled, its tech-enabled disability inclusion program, connects untapped talent with corporations.
Author, Political Activist
Arundhati Roy has many exquisite feathers in her cap–extraordinary author, award winning screenplay writer and political activist for human rights and environment. Her first book, “The God of Small Things,” won the 1997 Booker Prize. She has won many peace accolades for her relentless political work.
Mira Nair is an award-winning Indian American filmmaker. Her first film, “Salaam Bombay!” won her an Academy nomination under Foreign Films. Her work continually challenges the audience, as it often scrutinizes the economic, social and cultural aspects of Indian society.
MADHUR JAFFERY CBE
Chef, Author, Actress
Madhur Jaffery, CBE, dons a chef hat as effortlessly as she writes about food and cooking. Responsible for bringing Indian cuisine to the West, she is a famous television personality and a notable actress for her work in several Merchant-Ivory Productions.
Elisheba’s semi-autobiographical literary debut, Mamaji is a heart wrenching story of a family losing their mother prematurely. Navigating a difficult relationship with her stepmother, she writes about her and her siblings’ experience with grief, loss and endurance.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor Jhumpa Lahiri is exceptional in writing about the nuances of Indian- American immigrant experience. Drawing experience from her own time spanning continents, she writes with utmost care and detail that scrutinize complex relationships.
Pakistani American Shahzia Sikander uses art as a tool to think, understand and connect. She experiments across mediums – installations, prints, animations, performance and video, but specializes in Indo-Persian miniature paintings. Her art pieces readdress orientalist and feminist narratives, often challenging the status quo.
Meenal Sajwan started her journey into Kathak with merely Rs. 1,500 and her parents’ strong disapproval. Today, she teaches dance at her very own academy, the Satrang Kala Foundation. She recently spent three years in Mexico, teaching dance at the Indian Culture Center.
Lopa Patel is an individual with a staggering list of achievements including some of the UK’s highest accolades such as the MBE for her contributions to the creative industries and entrepreneurship. She is an evangelist for innovation, diversity and inclusion in STEM.
Gagandeep Kang, FRS, is an Indian microbiologist and virologist without whom India’s advancements in public health, virology and vaccinology would not be where they are today. In 2019, she became the first Indian woman to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
Model, Celebrity, Author
Indian American author, activist, model, and television host Padma Lakshmi is a woman of many talents. Her cookbooks are funny, well- loved and integrate different cultures. She is a strong women’s right advocate and founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
Shashwati Talukdar is a renowned documentary filmmaker who also has impressive narrative and experimental films in her oeuvre. Talukdar’s films explore cultural identity and representation, often through a political lens. Her recent venture as a playwright has garnered her much deserved appreciation.
Fashion designer Anita Dongre has been in vogue since 1995, with four impressive fashion labels under her belt. Her designs are inspired from Indian textiles and, handicrafts and craftsmanship. She is a strong advocate of animal rights, sustainability, fair wage trade and women’s empowerment.