Navigating Justice-Based Career Options in Broken Systems

The desire to help those less fortunate than ourselves is part of the fundamental nature of humanity. Yet it has unfortunately fallen to the wayside in recent years, if the prison-industrial complex, conspicuous lack of affordable medical care, and flawed foster care system are any indication.

The good news for those who want to address inequality without perpetuating broken systems is that you have plenty of options for turning your passion for social justice into a lucrative career. But in order to effectively help marginalized populations, should you operate within or outside of those systems? The answer is multifaceted and decidedly personalized.

Asking the Big Questions

justice-buildingWhen comparing careers or areas of university study, make sure your motives are clear and authentic. Ask yourself, who do I want to help? What is my reasoning behind the desire? What do I actually know about this particular social issue? Your social justice-based career search provides a prime opportunity to educate yourself on the topic.

For instance, if you hope to tackle the issue of wage inequality but are unsure of its prevalence in certain industries, or the populations most affected by an income gap, do your research. You may uncover surprising data, such as the fact that a  significant gender gap still existed in medical professions in 2016, a trend that continues to this day.

Researchers found that the average salary among male and female medical professionals in the same field or niche differed by about $20,000. And the pay gap between male and female physicians is actually growing,  according to CNN. So how can you address such a glaring industry-specific bias, or another instance of injustice?

The opportunity to influence social change may lie in your chosen career path.

Humanitarian Career Options

Once you’ve narrowed down your passions and selected the cause to fight for, you have more decisions to make, such as choosing your field of study at university. In many cases, your gut instinct and general moral code will be the deciding factors.

For example, if you’re disillusioned by the broken criminal justice system yet want to help at-risk youth, you may be more attracted to the social work field. Examine relevant programs offered at your chosen university to assist in your search, and consider the long-term implications as well, including expected salary and the estimated future growth potential within that field.

Many social justice advocates at the undergraduate level are torn between criminal justice and social work.  Both career paths afford you the opportunity to make a difference, yet they’re uniquely distinct.

A bachelor’s degree in social work may lead you to a fulfilling career in advocacy for foster children, homeless veterans, or other disenfranchised individuals. You could also opt to pursue a graduate-level degree and certification in social work, which will open up even more doors to careers in social justice advocacy.

In the realm of criminal justice, you have an opportunity to be a beacon of hope to those left behind by the system. And with a criminal justice degree, you’re well suited to fill any gaps you’ve identified within a broken system.

Final Thoughts

Enjoying a prosperous career does not mean that you’re a sellout, or that you turn a blind eye to disenfranchised populations. Indeed, your career can co-exist with your goal of squashing social injustice. Advocates of social justice reform may find equal levels of success and personal fulfillment in the fields of social work and/or criminal justice.


Avery PhillipsAvery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
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