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Let’s Continue To Break Barriers


Maria Olsen: Positive Aging Kuel Category Expert

All of us have broken barriers of some type, simply by being women in today’s society.

“We now know that “no” means no and that, if a person cannot consent, that also means no.”

For example, more of us spoke out on sexual assault simply by using the #MeToo hashtag. One in five American women will have been sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and we no longer are being silenced about it.

I kept my having been raped a secret for decades, believing I was at fault for putting myself in a dangerous situation. We now know that “no” means no and that, if a person cannot consent, that also means no.

Break The Glass:

In corporate America, our mother’s generation began to break the glass ceiling they faced. We widened the break.

In 2021, the number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 hit an alltime record and, for the first time, two Black women are running Fortune 500 businesses. Another executive is making history at the helm of the highest-ranking #1 business, CVS Health. This is the first time CVS Health is run by a female CEO. These are laudable achievements, but there is more work to do. Only eight percent of the Fortune 500 currently have female leadership.

The gift of feminism is that we have so many choices today. We can step off of the corporate ladder and get back on, if we wish. I took 15 years off from practicing law to raise my children, and found a litigation practice after my children left home that valued my intelligence and experience. We can pivot to new careers and start our own businesses.

“Many more women are fulfilling their dreams today.”

Chapters In Our Lives:

I have many friends, like Kuel Life founder, Jack Perez, who started new companies in midlife. Another friend, Emily Barrosse, started Bold Story Press, a publisher of books only by women. We are living longer, so we can have more chapters in our lives than did our predecessors. A friend of mine started law school in her fifties. Many more women are fulfilling their dreams today.

A new book by an African American trailblazer, Dancing in the Dash: My Story of Empowerment, Diplomacy, and Resilience, by Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado (Bold Story Press, 2021), highlighted some of the barriers broken in my lifetime. Fitz-Pegado was a diplomat, political appointee and corporate executive, for whom the rigors and discipline of dance training provided ballast and grace in dealing with life’s storms.

Her book reminded me of what it was like to be the only woman of color in various corporate settings, and inspired me to continue to lift up other women following behind me in various modern arenas. Fitz-Pegado is retired from professional life, but continues to help young women of color make the most of opportunities in the arts.

“Her guidance made me a better attorney and advocate.”

Guidance And Female Partners:

It is incumbent on us to continue to lift up the women who follow us. When I was a young lawyer in one of Washington, D.C.’s largest law firms, there were only a handful of female partners. One of them took me under her wing. Her guidance made me a better attorney
and advocate. I honor her by helping other female lawyers.

My daughter has more opportunities than I did, and her daughter will have more than did she, if we continue to do our jobs. Can you take the time to mentor a young woman? Can you take opportunities to encourage someone in your organization? What can you do to pay it forward?

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Maria Olsen

About the Author:

Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.