HomeLearning CenterMarilyn Loden, a workplace advocate who popularized the term ‘glass ceiling,’ dies at 76

Marilyn Loden, a workplace advocate who popularized the term ‘glass ceiling,’ dies at 76

When Marilyn Loden first used the phrase “glass ceiling” at a women’s business conference in 1978, she didn’t imagine it would become a familiar metaphor for the challenges to career advancement faced by women in the workforce.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Loden told the Washington Post in 2018, the 40th anniversary of the first time she used the term. “It made sense to me in the moment.”

She also didn’t think at the time that women would continue to encounter those invisible obstacles after her death.

“I thought I would be finished with this by the end of my lifetime, but I won’t be,” she told the Post. “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 died last month at 76, according to an obituary published in her local paper, the Napa Valley Register. Her death came a year after Loden was diagnosed with cancer, the paper reported. Widely credited with coining the term “glass ceiling,” she leaves behind a rich history of advocating for working women and challenging companies to break down the barriers to women’s career success.

Loden invented ‘glass ceiling’ off the cuff

When Loden worked in AT&T’s HR department, she was asked to fill in for a female manager at the 1978 Women’s Action Alliance Conference, the Post reported. She joined a panel on women’s advancement in the workforce that focused on women’s roles in their career stagnation, assertions Loden felt were unfair.

“It was a struggle to sit quietly and listen to the criticisms,” she wrote in a 2017 piece for the BBC.

She felt it was not women who were responsible for their lack of advancement but the sexism inherent in institutions like the American workforce.

“I argued that the ‘invisible glass ceiling’ — the barriers to advancement that were cultural not personal — was doing the bulk of the damage to women’s career aspirations and opportunities,” she said in her BBC article.

Loden challenged the prevalent idea of the time that women should adhere to a traditionally masculine model of leadership to succeed within their industry. In the 1985 book “Feminine Leadership, or How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys,” Loden encouraged women readers not to change themselves to fit in with their male bosses but to draw on their strengths to change the landscapes of their companies. She also penned books on how to support diversity in the workplace.

“To compete effectively, basic changes are called for in the very structure of US corporations and the manner in which they are run,” she wrote in “Feminine Leadership.”

In the years that followed the publication of her books, Loden lent her expertise on uplifting women in the workplace to organizations like Citibank, NASA and the US Navy, where she helped implement changes that held leaders accountable for sexual harassment within Navy ranks and created assault prevention policies.

CNN Business

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