How Many Social Movements Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

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For decades, grassroots activism has been a catalyst for cultural change. Women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war campaign all made an everlasting impact on the American sociopolitical landscape in addition to influencing labor and employment trends. Certainly the efforts to create child labor laws during the country’s industrial revolution were a show of the public’s ability to enact workplace reform. But the term “corporate social responsibility” is still fairly new, and we’ve yet to clearly define expectations or consequences around employer accountability. Will we reward companies that are listening to the activist buzz around them? Which grassroots efforts and concepts will be readily adopted for true corporate transformation?

With the growth of social media, the plethora of movements we see forming today and their causes, which dovetail and intertwine in fascinating ways, may get diluted and bring only murky results to American corporations that are vying for talent, customers, and economic favor. There are several popular movements currently fighting for the business sector’s mindshare. They include:

  • Me Too – a broad movement arising from an anti-sexual harassment/assault tweet
  • Time’s Up – a movement against sexual harassment in the workplace fueled by an announcement in The New York Times calling for solidarity among women and funds to help with legal costs for women unable to hire counsel
  • We Said Enough – sparked by a bipartisan letter published in The Los Angeles Times to end bullying and harassment in politics and the workplace
  • We Will Speak Out and The Tamar Campaign – religious-based coalitions against sexual and gender-based violence
  • The Stem Movement – a broad campaign to promote access to quality education concerning science, technology, engineering, and math, often directed at younger women but in general directed towards all children
  • Girls Who Code – a crusade to encourage female representation in the technology sector

We’ve seen the dismissal of several high-profile business leaders whose misbehavior has sparked these movements, and this provides hope that these causes are gaining traction in the workplace. Can we get further faster if these movements work together? For instance, as educators promote coding skills for young girls, other grassroots efforts need to ensure that the technology industry is welcoming and safe for these women when they arrive in larger numbers.

Below are three techniques successful movements should adopt for long-term impact:

  1. Publicize and promote a clear mission and offer solutions/alternatives to the status quo, being helpful to other campaigns with similar goals and consolidating resources when possible.
  2. Raise funds to support legal action and lobbying efforts, and make sure the money is accessible to those who need it. Funding is crucial for sealing victories in the courts and supporting lobbyists and non-profit organizations that help to push legislation through Congress.
  3. Get corporate leaders on the non-profit boards that are pushing your movement. A high-level executive of a public company will bring publicity and gravitas to any social campaign, and you can be certain the movement’s concepts will be embraced by the leader’s business, hopefully initiating a trend.

And for individual employees everywhere, don’t just stand by and watch. Be a part of the disruption. Help change your company’s “lightbulb” through action and integrity.