Where to Begin Conversations about Career Development and Social Justice

By Brian Hutchison

Career development is a global phenomenon and “career development work always impacts social justice” (Hutchison, 2019). These concepts are discussed in our profession, yet the conversations often lack precision about what is meant by career development focused on social justice (Thrift & Sugarman, 2019; Hutchison, 2015). As career development professionals we have a responsibility to develop a deep understanding and operating framework around issues of social justice.

This article outlines three key practices to help career development professionals improve their understanding of, and facility when discussing, social justice in a career development context.


Define Social Justice in a Practical Way

While there are multiple frameworks describing social justice, it is helpful to draw upon two specific theories of social justice that fit the career development field’s values for human development, human agency, and multiculturalism.

John Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness describes the significance of fairness in society (Rawls, 1971). Justice, according to Rawls, requires free and equal persons, political and personal liberties, equal opportunity, and cooperative arrangements to benefit the less advantaged as well as the more advantaged. Building off these principles, Nancy Fraser developed an applied theoretical framework that focuses on fairness in three domains: cultural recognition, economic redistribution, and political enfranchisement (Fraser, 2009).

Deriving from Rawls’s and Fraser’s theories, a practical definition of social justice could be:

Social justice is a commitment to the view that everyone deserves equal recognition for who they see themselves to be, economic support to live an engaged civic life and lifestyle, and access to exert influence through political and institutional participation.

This one sentence working definition describes social justice itself, yet it is not focused on work and career development. In other words, how does my work as a career development professional honor my commitment to social justice through fostering healthy identity recognition, economic opportunity, and political enfranchisement? This brings us to the next practice of understanding socially just work.


Understand What Socially Just Work Looks Like

Before tackling the “how” of social justice, career development professionals need to understand the “what.” What is socially just work, and how will clients know it when they see it?

The International Labour Organization’s concept of decent work provides an apt framework for socially just work. Decent work:

is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for all, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, [to] organize and [to] participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity […] for all. (ILO, n.d.)

All types of work can be made decent, and all decent work is created by the values of workers, employers, communities, and governments. Though the world is full of indecent work—work that does not provide a living wage, safe environments, grievance processes, and full civic participation opportunities for employees—in every industry and in every locale, career development professionals can be part of creating decent work.

Istock 592366560 Credit Rawpixel

Connect to Social Justice Communities Addressing Issues that Make Way for Decent Work

Social change does not occur in isolation but in collective action and organizing. Organization requires (1) awareness of issues, (2) knowledge of communities, and (3) the skills to set and attain social goals. Evans and Sejuit (2021) stated that action is a fourth competency, after awareness, knowledge and skills. “In the counseling relationship, action requires that career professionals get together with other professionals and the community to learn more effective ways to help clients” (Evans & Sejuit, 2021, p. 197). While this is no small, nor immediate, set of tasks, it is a dynamic way to enliven your career development work and its impact on your clients’ lives.

Around the globe, communities of career development professionals are pursuing socially just career development practices. For example, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) encourages members to take action based on its belief that social justice co-exists with career development practice. A list of social justice resources  can be found on the NCDA website. Other practitioner and researcher communities provide examples of how professionals can organize in their own contexts:

  1. Highlighting awareness of issues, Career Guidance for Social Justice is an international blogging community promoting discussion and debate around the future of the careers field, helping practitioners develop new ways to bring social justice to career guidance, and providing materials for the education and training of careers professionals. On the ground, Climate-Aware Career Practitioners of Canada is a new group connecting climate crisis issues, the green economy, and job seekers’ need for hope in the midst of this crisis.
  2. Organizations helping professionals to increase their knowledge of communities include the Career Planning Academy, whose Career Work is Justice Work is a 5-clock hour course that helps professionals understand their thoughts, experiences, and beliefs about work and justice while learning practical activities and interventions to help clients grow within their community context.
  3. There are many avenues to build skills for social justice, from organizer trainings to professional certifications. Career development professionals may be interested in opportunities like the Georgetown University Certification in Social Impact Consulting and Equity Literacy Institute’s Racial Equity Facilitator train-the-trainer. Opportunities such as these prepare individuals to advise and lead effectively in the quickly evolving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) landscape.


The three key practices presented in this article provide an avenue to begin building a foundation of awareness, knowledge, and skills to create social change within, and outside, the career development practice. By reflecting on and enacting these practices, career development professionals can take that next step toward socially justice career practice today.



Evans, K. M., & Sejuit, A. L. (2021). Gaining cultural competence in career counseling (2nd ed.). National Career Development Association.

Fraser, N. (2009). Scales of justice: Reimagining political space in a globalizing world. Columbia University Press.

Hutchison, B. (2015). Advocating workers‐within‐environment: A critical perspective for addressing career concerns. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 54(3), 236-246. https://doi.org/10.1002/johc.12014

Hutchison, B. (2019, February 15). Career work is justice work. [Keynote presentation]. NCDA Career Practitioner Institute, San Diego, CA.

International Labor Organization [ILO]. (n.d.) Decent work. https://ilo.org/global/topics/decent-work/lang--en/index.htm

Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Harvard University Press.

Thrift, E., & Sugarman, J. (2019). What is social justice? Implications for psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 39(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1037/teo0000097



Brian HutchisonBrian Hutchison, Ph.D., LPC, CCSCC, is Core Faculty in the School Department of Counseling at Walden University, USA. He received his doctorate degree in Counselor Education & Supervision from Pennsylvania State University and has worked as a career, school, and mental health counselor and clinical supervisor. Brian’s career consultation and education work operates within the brand of Global Career Guy where he specializes in developing career publications, programs, keynote talks, workshops, and on-line career coaching and mentorship for global career professionals. He has more than four dozen publications and is the lead author of the 12th edition of School to Career, a career textbook for high school students. Contact: https://www.globalcareerguy.com

Printer-Friendly Version


Dr. Brian Hutchison   on Friday 06/02/2023 at 09:04 AM

Hi all. Brian, the author here. I plan to check into this chat space over the next week in hopes to be part of a conversation about the ideas in this article, and to listen to your own experiences. Let's engage in a conversation to make our work engaging around issues of social justice.

Christopher J. Needham   on Sunday 06/04/2023 at 11:08 AM

There is no doubt, that work can be brutal. There is obviously degrees of severity from one career to the next. I believe that any one involved in guiding a person toward a particular career field has a moral duty to let the that person know, to the best of their ability, the good and bad of that particular career. We should also work together in any way possible to promote fairness in the workplace and become educated on the latest career trends in this ever changing economy.

Dr. Brian Hutchison   on Sunday 06/04/2023 at 09:29 PM

@Christopher J. Needham.

Spot on! I am thinking a lot about Matthew Diemer's work on critical consciousness as applied though interventions in career development work. There are some very positive outcome studies (Diemer & Bluestein, 2005 comes immediately to mind - hope I got the citation right from memory) that align with much of his other work that helps coach us on the "how" to do this type of work, particularly with historically marginalized clients.

To your final sentence, I think a lot about the collective field's responsibility to hold employers more accountable. For example, I just attended an equity and access presentation at a conference that was presented by a notoriously bad faith employer (think anti-labor unions and notorious working conditions) yet my sense was the conference planners gave the ok to their presence at the conference. Honestly, the presentation felt like propaganda to me. Where do our collective morals and ethics come into play is another hard question? While not an "easy" question to answer, I think it is fair to ask if our professional organizations are striving hard enough to hold employers accountable too.

Nancy J. Miller   on Wednesday 06/07/2023 at 09:35 PM

If social justice includes equal recognition, economic support and influence through political and institutional participation, how can career professionals foster this support in an unequal society? We can learn the language of diversity and social justice, become aware of the holes in the social system, ask and not assume when working with clients, and advocate for our clients and students whenever possible.
Thank you, Brian, for continuing to delve into the topic of diversity, equity, and social justice.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.