All month long the LGBT community, allies, and a boatload of brands have been celebrating Pride month. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, between members of the LGBT community and the police.
In 1969, it was illegal to be gay. Within six months of the violent uprising, two gay activist organizations were established in New York. Soon after, more gay rights organizations were formed, and the first Pride parade was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Here are three leadership lessons you can take from the Stonewall Riots and its aftermath, to start make forward progress on issues that are important for you and your business.
1. Change is possible when people speak up.
The law was not on the side of the LGBT community back in 1969. However, just because something is a law doesn't mean it is just. But laws, unjust policies, or operating norms that don't serve the greater good of your customers, your team, or your business don't have to be engrained forever.
Change is made possible when passionate people speak up and let their voice be heard. That doesn't have to be in the form of a riot, and it definitely shouldn't result in violence.
That could mean writing a manifesto and posting it publicly advocating for change. It could mean having private meetings with other leaders who can help champion your cause. Or it could be as simple as calling someone out on the spot when you see misbehavior, to let them know you won't stand for it.
One of my clients told me that he started an important dialogue about embracing different cultures with his colleagues, simply by telling interesting stories and peppering in important facts to support his narrative in his vacation out-of-office message.
A simple action from you can be the spark needed to start a chain reaction that ignites a movement.
2. Sometimes movements take time to catch on, and that's okay.
We live in a world of instant gratification. But when it comes to effecting meaningful change, it often takes time. We look at the massive Pride celebrations today, but it took fifty years to get there.
When it comes to doing important work and creating positive change, don't despise small beginnings. In time, your advocacy will gain momentum and inspire others to join in on your quest.
For instance, there are many companies that are still working hard in the fight to achieve gender equality among their workforce, even after putting energy toward it for a number of years. In the journey toward achieving this goal, many leaders have uncovered a number of challenges and issues that need to be addressed to help make meaningful and lasting change. But now that these challenges have been identified, action plans can be put in place to address them.
3. There's power in organized groups.
The Stonewall uprising was the spark that helped the LGBT community see that they could fight back against the laws that were oppressing them, rather than just accepting them as "the way it is." From that uprising came the organized groups that rallied the community on specific issues that helped move the needle forward.
As you work to create positive change in your area of focus, don't take the fight alone. Find allies who are willing to join together with you to make steady progress toward your goals.
Brainstorm ways to make it easy for others to participate. There is strength in numbers. And the more others start to see you have an organized group that is making a ruckus, it helps remove some of the perceived risks associated with supporting and or being a part of the effort.
As an example, last year, more than 20,000 Google employees walked out in protest of sexual harassment, misconduct, a non-inclusive workplace culture, and a lack of transparency, particularly at the senior leadership level.
Just because something is the status quo now, doesn't mean it will be forever. But don't wait for someone else to come and be the hero to make positive change. You have the power to shake things up. All you have to do to get started is to use your voice.