Marilyn Loden, a workplace advocate who popularised the term ‘glass ceiling’, passed away at the age 76, leaving behind a feminist legacy that inspired generations of women. Her nephew announced her death, which followed a year-long battle with cancer.
Loden first coined the now notable phrase during a panel at the 1978 Women’s Action Alliance Conference in New York City.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Loden later told the Washington Post in 2018 on the phrase’s 40th anniversary. “It made sense to me in the moment.”
Marilyn Loden Who Coined The Phrase Glass Ceiling
Loden was 31 and working in human resources at the New York Telephone Co. when she was asked to be part of a panel at a feminist conference in Manhattan. It was 1978, and the topic was how women’s progress in the workplace was hindered. While her fellow panelists discussed poor self-image and self-deprecating behaviours, Loden knew that women were not to blame for their own stalled careers. It was then she used the enduring metaphor as a barrier for women’s thwarted progress.
“It seemed to me that there was an invisible barrier to advancement that people didn’t recognise,” she told The Washington Post in the 2018 interview.
Loden later recalled some of her own experiences with the glass ceiling, telling the BBC in 2017 that her male boss often told her to smile more and “made a point of commenting on my appearance at literally every meeting.”
Today, the phrase is firmly embedded in our vocabulary. Memorably, Hillary Clinton stationed the phrase when she addressed her supporters after losing the presidential nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time,” she said, “thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.” She used it again eight years later, when she lost to Donald Trump.
Now the phrase is used to address all sorts of barriers women and others face in all various spheres.
Loden was hoping it would become “an antiquated phrase,” and that someday “people will say, ‘There was a time when there was a glass ceiling.’ I thought I would be finished with this by the end of my lifetime, but I won’t be,” she had told.
While the glass ceiling may be Loden’s most memorable contribution to society, it’s far from her only legacy.
After her early years in human resources, Loden went on to become a management consultant and workplace diversity advocate who worked with a wide variety of entities, from Citibank to the University of California to the US Navy. According to the NPR, Her work at the Navy led to policy changes increasing leader accountability for sexual harassment and lifting the ban prohibiting women sailors from serving on submarines, and she received its civilian Superior Service Medal in 2016.
Loden wrote three books on gender and diversity in the workplace. In Feminine Leadership: Or, How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys (1985), she argued that the male leadership model — competitive, aggressive and focused on winning, no matter the cost — was hurting American corporations.
Loden was also a benefactor of numerous causes including global health, animal rights and democracy. She met her husband, John Loden, an advertising executive, in 1972; he died in 2021.
Loden is survived by a sister, two nephews and grand-nieces.
Suggested Reading: Today I Learnt: The Glass Ceiling And How Women Can Break It