In recent years, the role of social justice in career development is, once again, becoming a central focus (Borgen 2005; Arthur et al, 2009). Historically, career development, social justice, and advocacy have been intrinsically intertwined. The founder of vocational psychology, Frank Parsons, advocated for the poor and disadvantaged; worked against discrimination and oppression; and believed in justice and social change.
But, what is social justice? Social justice works to break down barriers, challenge prejudice, advocate for equality, provide equal access, encourage social change, support divergent ideologies, disseminate information, understand context, fight oppressive forces, and question the status quo.
When any of us encounter prejudice, oppression, and negative attitudes, our knowledge, skills, experience, and values are undermined, which can erode self-efficacy, and disrupt our identity and sense of competence. As practitioners and theorists who believe in social justice, we struggle with the obvious need to address the societal and cultural forces that affect our clients directly and indirectly, while also attempting to remain value neutral.
Yet, social justice is not just the absence of projecting our values on to others, or a liberal ideology toward marginalized groups. It is recognizing that our own ideologies and theoretical frameworks, even when well-intended, can have inadvertent detrimental consequences on us all.
We must not forget that social justice moves beyond the belief that access to opportunity creates equality. Social justice moves beyond the idea of “one size fits all” philosophies and recognizes that people need different resources and support in their career development process. The use of undifferentiated interventions assumes shared values and goals, and it does not call for true change but rather for the forced adaptation to established ideologies.
There are many ways for career service professionals to work towards socially just career development. Advocacy, education, and inspiration are three distinct components to social justice within career development services.
Advocacy in our work can take place in many forms and contexts. Advocacy happens when we engage in multiculturally competent career counseling. Multicultural competency and social justice are closely interconnected. Essentially, they both seek to empower the individual and foster systemic change, while understanding and respecting the client’s unique cultural and social context.
Systemically, career service professionals can advocate for social change by actively guiding policies and procedures toward inclusivity, accessibility, and fairness for all. In other words, we should ask ourselves, if we live in a pluralistic society with equal access for all, who is not walking through our doors and why? Do we serve a representative group of clients? What deters others? Is our organization viewed as approachable by everyone?
As our society becomes increasingly diverse, there is not a single organization that can afford to ignore those who are not being served. Inthe end, these entities run the risk of becoming irrelevant to society at large.
Understanding the function of career development services in society is vital. Aptitude, knowledge, and the physical and mental health to put these to work (human capital) are essential for personal growth (Boushey & Hersh, 2012). But, economic vitality in general is enhanced when human capital is also harmonized with the most fitting occupation (Boushey & Hersh, 2012).
Hence, it is imperative that potential clients, administrators, other professionals, the media, legislators, policy makers, community leaders, educators, grantors, for-profit and non-profit organizations, etc. are well-informed about the role that career services can play in people’s lives in particular, and for society as a whole.
Thus, educating the public can serve multiple purposes:
Engaging in educational activities provides the opportunity to inform the public about how career services can positively affect lives. In turn, by engaging with the public at large, we can take the pulse of what is happening in our communities, which can guide and enhance service provision.
Demystifying career services
Bringing career development from behind closed doors makes it more approachable and less intimidating. By engaging others through public education, career professionals can help break-down barriers to seeking services, making career counseling more accessible to traditionally underserved groups.
Engaging in social activism and social justice
Public education can serve as a vehicle to help protect the rights of those we serve by empowering them via knowledge and information. The practice of public education allows us to effect a broader societal change that is proactive in nature.
Making career services information available increases the likelihood people will seek services reducing career dissatisfaction over a lifetime, and ultimately enhancing their quality of life.
Our work, dedication, and skills can provide our clients with the tools to direct the course of their lives. It can be rewarding and inspiring to consider that our work can help change lives. Career counseling professionals are in a unique position to help individuals construct their lives through the relationship they have with their work. Yet, career counselors must be cognizant that career development is heavily influenced by the social systems in which it resides.
Social justice has been fundamentally linked to the mental health of society and its members. The mental health of us all is enhanced when there are optimal conditions to better one self, to thrive, to feel like a desired member of society, and when all individuals are welcome to contribute to a greater good.
Ask yourself, what change are you willing to make to be an instrument of social justice?
Arthur, N, Collins, S., McMahon, M., & Mashall, C. (2009). Career practitioners’ views of social justice and barriers to practice. Canadian Journal of Career Development, 8, 22-31.
Borgen, F. H. (2005). Advancing social justice in vocational theory, research, and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 33, 197-206.
Boushey, H. & Hersh, A. (May 2012). The American middle class, income inequality, and the strength of our economy. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/05/pdf/middleclass_growth.pdf
Dr. Angela Londoño-McConnell is co-founder of AK Counseling & Consulting, Inc. She consults with profit and non-for-profit organizations on staff development, organizational culture, and productivity concerns. As a regularly invited speaker, she has addressed a variety of topics related to college student development, career and life planning, health psychology, and ethnic/cultural affairs. She gave the Keynote Address (on which this article is based) at the NCDA Global Career Development Conference, June 21st, 2012 in Atlanta, GA.
Angela Londoño-McConnell may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org