The Top 8 Social Justice Careers

8 min read
social justice careers

As society continues to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a realization that the recent so-called “great resignation” of workers is more of a great reflection. In a Gartner survey, 65% of respondents said they’re rethinking the place that work should have in their life. Furthermore, 56% said they now want to contribute more to society.

If you’re one of those interested in finding a career that can help make a positive impact on the world, you may consider pursuing a career in social justice. Whether you’d prefer to address societal issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, inequality, globalization or climate crises — working toward social justice allows you to be an agent for change and advocate for others. 

If you’re ready to explore jobs in the social justice field, keep reading — and after you’ve finish, we recommend checking out our companion post: Top Degrees for Social Justice Careers.

What Is Social Justice?

As an ideal, social justice is a relatively recent concept, having arisen in response to the exploitation of labor during the industrial revolution and becoming more defined following the second world war. Social justice as defined by the United Nations’ International Forum for Social Development is “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth,” and so is closely tied to the concept of equity and economic justice.

More broadly, social justice is the belief that every person, regardless of age, gender, orientation, race, religion or socioeconomic status deserves equal access to rights and opportunities. Additionally, achieving equity to economic opportunity requires enacting “just transitions” from the status quo of inequality, discrimination, and environmental and economic exploitation. 

Achieving social justice for the global community will require work and support across many different areas of human society.

What Are the Areas of Social Justice?

There are far too many areas for any one person or single organization to address. It is more effective to focus on working within a specific area to promote the values of social justice, Especially as these areas are interrelated; for example, improving access to education can have positive impacts on a community’s access to health and business opportunities, which in turn can help to alleviate poverty.

  • Education – Education is essential for improving quality of life and opening up greater opportunities, but those from lower incomes or who experience discrimination may have limited or lack of access to education. Working for social justice means providing equal access to education and ensuring that standards are met for everyone, regardless of income or background.
  • Business – As a core component of social justice, economic equity demands that all businesses have fair hiring practices, promote positive social change and operate in a sustainable manner. Businesses also need to be managed equitably with regard to pay for workers, with profits and access to benefits shared for all.
  • Poverty – The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 11.4% of the total population live in poverty, which means low nutrition, lack of housing and healthcare in addition to limited access to resources. Social justice workers can alleviate the impacts of poverty by providing care and ensuring economic opportunities for impoverished communities.
  • Discrimination – Discrimination of all types — whether based on race, gender, or sexual identity or orientation — effectively deny access to opportunities, limit civil rights and can cause active harm. Ensuring fair hiring practices, educating others on the effects of discrimination and working toward understanding and acceptance is important across all fields and industries. 
  • Immigration and Refugee Services – Those who are seeking opportunity in other countries or are fleeing persecution, conflict and disaster are often ignored by the larger society, or even harassed, scapegoated and discriminated against. Working to assist immigrants and refugees brings positive benefits, which include creating new businesses, driving economic growth and helping to build communities.
  • Climate Change – Few threats are as existential as climate change, which threatens to exacerbate the impacts of natural disasters, floods, droughts, famines and disease — all of which have greater impact on vulnerable populations and poorer countries. Any effort to address climate change also furthers the cause of social justice.
  • Health care – Health is established as a basic human right and yet many communities do not have access to health services or are straddled with extraordinary expenses. Working for social justice in health care means enabling greater access to health services across all communities and ensuring that no individuals are discriminated against.

8 Careers in Social Justice

If you’re hoping to promote equality and justice in your career, there are some paths that are explicitly dedicated toward promoting public good and social equality. The following are eight social justice career options where you can specialize in areas that will help to make a difference.

  1. Instructional Coordinator — Teaching and education is a broad field, and encompasses everything from elementary and high school positions to adult education and postsecondary positions at colleges and universities. While all of these careers can benefit the cause of social justice, one we’d like to highlight is the instructional coordinator position. While instructional coordinators aren’t active in the classroom, they’re responsible for developing curriculum, planning and conducting teacher training, researching and recommending new instructional techniques, standards and assessments. It’s an important position that can help determine what is taught as well as how schools and institutions can better address matters of discrimination.
    • Instructional coordinators have a median salary of $63,740. 
    • This position requires a master’s degree in education or related field and a few years of work experience. Those who work in public schools will need to have a state-issued license.
  2. Social Worker — Social workers are on the frontlines in assisting and supporting the most vulnerable members of society. They can specialize in working with children, the homeless, those under the poverty line, the unemployed or those struggling with terminal illness, mental illness or addictions. They can work directly with individuals who are in-need or at a larger level to develop policy and push for the development and/or improvement of social programs and services.
    • Social workers have a median salary of $50,390.
    • This position requires either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. Clinical social workers will need to have a state-issued license.
  3. Urban Planner — Urban and regional planners play a vital role in analyzing and approving land use and development plans. Ideally, urban planners will work toward improving a community by consulting with public officials, community advocates, planning commissions and neighborhood groups. They can further the cause of social justice by ensuring that marginalized and underserved communities are treated equitably when it comes to the planning of transportation, housing, infrastructure and public places — rather than being the target for predatory gentrification.
    • Urban planners have a median salary of $78,500.
    • This position requires a master’s degree in urban or regional planning. Some positions will also work experience or certain certifications.
  4. Social and Community Service Manager — Public administration is a very broad field of careers that work in state, local and federal governments to administer aid, support and services to the public. There are positions in public housing, criminal justice, health services and emergency management. One of the more central positions, social and community service manager, oversees programs and organizations that work to support the well-being of the public. They may focus on larger communities or specialize in specific areas like veteran’s care, homelessness or child support and education.
    • Social and community service managers have a median salary of $74,000.
    • This position requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work or a public policy-related field. Some work experience may also be required.
  5. Public Health Nurse — The field of public health serves and administers to the general public, rather than in private practice for individuals. While there are many possible positions for those interested in working in public health, the most popular tend to be health education and community health workers, biostatisticians and public health nurses. Public health nurses don’t focus on bedside care, but rather travel to communities in order to educate people about health issues, provide access to healthcare services and identify any risk factors unique to certain communities or vulnerable populations.
    • Public health nurses have a median salary of $77,600.
    • This position requires a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing. They must have a state-issued nursing license and some positions may require work experience.
  6. Emergency Management Director — Those in the field of emergency management prepare and plan for responding to natural disasters or other public emergencies. Those who lead the response, emergency management directors, coordinate with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, private companies and communicate with the general public to set response plans and take action in the event of an emergency. Directors will oversee training and run exercises to ensure preparedness and will direct operations from a localized command center during a public emergency.
    • Emergency management directors have a median salary of $76,730.
    • This position requires at least a bachelor’s degree and years of experience in an emergency management field (exact required amount may vary on the position).
  7. Engineer — Engineers of all fields can work toward social justice, including civil, biomedical, industrial, mechanical and chemical. Organizations like the Engineering, Social Justice and Peace (ESJP) network brings together a global community of academics, students, professionals and community groups to use engineering to enhance social and environmental justice. Some engineering fields, such as environmental engineering, work explicitly to develop solutions for the world’s pressing environmental problems.
    • Environmental engineers have a median salary of $96,820.
    • This position requires at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering field, with higher level and leadership positions requiring a master’s degree and several years of work experience.
  8. Epidemiologist — An epidemiologist is a public health worker who specifically researches and directs studies on diseases and similar community health risks. They work to analyze patterns of outbreaks or public health issues in order to determine effective means of mitigating harm, aiding in recovery and preventing future outbreaks.
    • Epidemiologists have a median salary of $78,830.
    • This position requires at least a master’s degree in a field related to public health. 

Pros and Cons of a Social Justice Career

Some questions to consider about pursuing a career in social justice — what you will gain? What will it cost. If you’re determined to make a difference, then you likely understand that promoting social justice will — in the long run — help improve human society for the better. In the short term it can elevate and celebrate local communities, making them healthier and more vibrant places to live. Finally, achieving social justice can be personally rewarding, allowing you to take pride in your work and efforts.

There are some considerations about engaging in this work. It can be challenging, not just in the obstacles you’ll face, but also in the physical, mental and emotional toll that comes with working alongside those who are most in-need of assistance. 

Working toward social justice can also bring unintended consequences — think of the negative effects of gentrification, where working to revitalize a community attracts outside investors who purchase property, eventually pricing out the original habitants. Social justice work needs to be a coordinated collaboration with other stakeholders, government officials and representatives of local communities to ensure that outcomes are equitable and all possible harms are mitigated.

Finally, there’s misinformation and fear-mongering about the aims of social justice work, that it’s merely performative or has ulterior motives. To work in social justice means that you’ll need to educate others about your goals, about the process of achieving equity and about the individuals and communities you’re working for.

Important for better societiesChallenging
Celebrates communitiesUnintended consequences
Personally rewardingCan be misunderstood

Should You Choose a Career in Social Justice?

If you believe in positive change and are looking for a career that can be fulfilling and impactful, then the world of social justice might be right for you. If you feel strongly about making a positive impact, you can also make social justice a central part of whatever position you choose, even if you don’t pursue a “typical” social justice career.

Because the world’s problems do not stop at disciplinary boundaries, the University of San Diego has created the Master of Science in Engineering for Sustainability and Health (MESH) degree program to empower those looking to enact positive social change. 

“Understanding the relationship between healthcare and the economy, the environment, justice, social factors, all of these aspects of our life are interconnected…so a program like MESH is so important to bring into the world this cross disciplinary training that is the foundation of our world as it needs to be understood. This understanding is really at the forefront”

Dr. Susan Abookire, WIF fund launch.

MESH Director and Co-founder of ESJP, Dr. Caroline Baillie, has spent her career promoting the cause of social justice in engineering. That’s why our curriculum is built on a purposeful and critical transdisciplinary practice that incorporates complex system approaches to sustainability and health. 

If you’d like to know more about either the MESH degree or the ESJP program, contact us to continue the conversation.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some ways to get involved with social justice?

Ways to support initiatives that connect to social justice in our everyday lives include educating ourselves about social justice issues we’re most passionate about; connecting with local organizations and advocacy groups; volunteering; donating to causes; investing responsibly; examining our own beliefs and habits, and being open to personal growth.

Is social justice work difficult?

Work in social justice is no more or less difficult than most careers. However, working with disadvantaged or impoverished communities, or assisting victims of disaster, abuse and conflict can be mentally and emotionally taxing.

What is the typical salary for social justice careers?

Careers in social justice pay as well as in any other area, especially as more industries realize the importance of healthy and equitable societies. This means there is more likely to be greater opportunities for social justice work.

Are there helpful resources for social justice work?

If you’d like to research more about social justice work and some of the many organizations that support it, we recommend visiting the following sites:

Looking to Support Justice and Sustainability?

Start with our eBook, Meeting the Planet’s Most Urgent Challenges, to see where and how you can make a difference.

Meeting the planet's most urgent challenges ebook cover