Marilyn Loden, an advocate for workplace equality who coined the phrase “glass ceiling,” has died at the age 76, leaving behind a feminist legacy that inspired generations of women.
Loden first said the now well-known 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 told the Washington Post in 2018 on the phrase’s 40th anniversary. “It made sense to me in the moment.”
She added: “I thought I would be finished with this by the end of my lifetime, but I won’t be. I’m hoping if it outlives me, it will (become) an antiquated phrase. People will say, ‘There was a time when there was a glass ceiling.’”
Loden’s died after a battle with cancer, according to an obituary published in the Napa Valley Register last month.
Born on July 12, 1946 in New Hyde Park, New York, Loden attended Syracuse University. After graduating in 1968, she eventually got a job in the human resources department for AT&T, according to the obituary.
While working for AT&T, she went to the 1978 conference and joined a panel on women’s advancement in the workforce called “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,” according to a blog post by Loden.
The panel focused on women’s roles in their career stagnation — which Loden felt were unfair. She noted that the other panelists pointed out that women were not being “socialized” for success, the “self-deprecating ways” in which women behaved, and the self-doubt and low self-esteem that many women carried in the workplace.
When it was her turn to speak, she questioned why women were often passed over for management roles and highlighted the sexist ways many male managers treated their female co-workers.
“It was a struggle to sit quietly and listen to all the criticisms,” she recalled in the 2008 blog post. “[I spoke about] the fact that many women managers were paid less for the same work, the spotlighting of women in male-dominated roles for any failure but seldom for their successes and the lack of role models and emotional support that these women lived with each day.”
Loden said while she acknowledged low self-esteem might be an issue “for a few,” the ‘invisible glass ceiling’ was organizational — not personal.
“[This] was having a much greater impact on women’s career aspirations,” she wrote.
She then went on to author several books, the first one published in 1985 was called “Feminine Leadership, or How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys,” which encouraged women to stand out, not succumb to stereotypes. This best-selling book was followed by several others, focusing on diversity in the workplace.
Loden told the BBC in 2017 about her own experiences with the glass ceiling, recalling her male boss telling her to smile more and making a “point of commenting on my appearance at literally every meeting.”
She also recalled a time her male colleague was promoted over her because he was a “family man” and was his household’s main breadwinner — despite her better performance record.
Loden stated she was told “repeatedly” that advancing women’s roles within middle management was “degrading the importance” of those positions.
Loden told Reuters in 2018 that the #MeToo movement only reinforced her mission for workplace equality, continuing her advocacy into her 70s.
“I think there’s just so much more work to do,” she told Reuters at the time. “I’m not ready to stop. I want to make a difference.”