On May 24, 1978, Marilyn Loden was assigned by the New York Telephone Company to replace a female vice president of the company at the 1978 Women’s Exposition in New York. She was assigned to give a speech at the “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall” forum. The speech was supposed to be about how women were to blame for sabotaging their own efforts to get ahead in the workforce. That was not, however, the speech she actually gave.
She was not impressed with the idea of talking about how women’s self-image and self-confidence problems held them back. She did not care to talk about how women supposedly didn’t dress the right way to get promotions. Instead, she decided to talk about what she saw as the real problem: invisible barriers in the workplace, rooted in problematic company cultures, corporate hierarchies, stereotypes, and misogyny, which prevented women from getting ahead at work. She called this invisible barrier “the glass ceiling.”
In making this speech, she also made history. The term became a part of the national conversation. In 1986, the Wall Street Journal did a major piece on the idea. Loden’s “glass ceiling” concept perfectly encapsulated one of second-wave feminism’s major fights: against gender-based inequality in the workplace. In response to all the attention the issue received throughout the 80s, the Department of Labor created the Glass Ceiling Commission to examine the problem in 1991. Today, the phrase can be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. After her history-making speech, Loden went on to become a writer.