Jamie Birt is a career coach with 3+ years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment in their careers.
A 2018 study found that nine out of ten people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. In addition, Indeed Hiring Lab found that today’s recent college grads prioritize passion over a paycheck.
In a time that has given the social and economic injustices of the world much-needed attention, you may be wondering how you can turn activism into a career. If you have a passion for human rights, equality and making a difference, a career in social justice may be appealing.
In this article, we sit down with Genevieve Rimer, DSW and Manager of Advisory Services at CEO and Anslem Gardner, MBA and National Director of Programs for Momentum Advisory Collective to discuss what led them to careers in social justice, the benefits and challenges of this type of work, and advice for job seekers considering social justice as a career path.
We also highlight eight examples of careers in social justice with their national average salary, primary duties, and requirements.
What is social justice?
Social justice is the act of fighting for ethical relations between individuals and societies. It’s the notion that all people deserve equal rights, opportunity and treatment. Some examples of social justice causes include:
- Racial equality
- LGBTQ+ rights
- Child welfare
- Affordable healthcare
- Refugee services
This is not an exhaustive list of social justice issues. Do your research to discover other causes that are in alignment with your passions.
How to decide if a career in social justice is for me
Doing work that is meaningful to you may help increase your self-esteem, job satisfaction, overall positivity, lower blood pressure and provide a feeling of purpose. Taking on a career in social justice may, however, present some challenges such as increased emotional burden and lower overall earning potential. We sat down with Genevieve Rimer who works for the Center for Employment Opportunities and Anslem Gardner of Momentum Advisory Collective to learn about their career path and advice for those seeking a career in social justice.
Genevieve is Manager of Advisory Services at CEO—an organization that helps individuals who have recently returned home from incarceration re-enter the workforce.
Anslem has acted as Site and Program Director at Genesys Works—an organization that trains underserved individuals in skills required to have success in the workforce. He is now the National Director of Programs at Momentum Advisory Collective, an organization that provides youth exiting juvenile detention facilities with employment, life skills training and wraparound care.
Q: What led you to a career in social justice?
GR: “I felt a deep calling to help people. Growing up, I realized that not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and I wanted to do something about that.”
AG: “The longer I spend on this planet, the more I become aware that even as a Black man I carry many privileges. I also have many disadvantages but what has become increasingly important is to change and combat the fact that I have any and so many others have several. Systemic racism exists because the people who comprise or make up the system are navigating without enough focus on rectifying its deep inequalities. I’d like to believe that everyone who works in social justice, or for it, in their careers, are part of the systemic change needed to move the needle in the opposite direction—to change the course of the ship.”
Q: What’s most fulfilling about your career?
AG: “I feel like while working to close the opportunity gap, specifically in workforce development, I’ve seen the lightbulb turn on for so many employers when they see just how capable our professionals are. I’ve also seen the lightbulb go on for our students when they themselves realize how capable they are, and that they just did it; that they’re still doing it! That’s most fulfilling.”
GR: “I am able to see policies and practices change to be more inclusive with people returning home from incarceration, but just as important I’m able to see narratives change as well. An example of this is using person-centered language. There is so much power in language. In my interactions with other agencies and people, it is very fulfilling when they too start using person-centered language. An example of this is instead of calling someone an ‘ex-convict’ or ‘ex-felon’ they begin to use words like ‘system-impacted’ or ‘a person with a conviction’—just that little shift in language can transform the narrative of formerly incarcerated people. It is a huge win.”
Q: What are some challenges this career faces?
AG: “Constantly demanding the respect of my peers and getting away from the stereotypes that working in the nonprofit world carry. For example, people working for social justice or nonprofits don’t understand business. People working for social justice or nonprofits don’t make money. I have been blessed to be comfortable but speaking candidly, that is another challenge—people who work for social justice aren’t valued enough and with that comes lack of acceptable compensation across the board.”
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in social justice?
GR: “Be bold and have a wide vision. Oftentimes, people don’t know about opportunities within social work and with a degree in social work, you can do so many things. It’s not just clinical. It’s important to consistently and constantly challenge ourselves to think deeper about social problems.”
AG: “Never stop listening and never stop learning. Never come to the table assuming you understand how it all works, or you know what a population needs. Learn, pivot, grow, challenge yourself, and only do it if you are fulfilled in being a part of bringing about change. Don’t be afraid of change. The best way isn’t always the old way. And have fun. And last but not least, take care of yourself. Trauma, second-hand or not is real so make sure to have a good work-life balance and protect your mental health.”
Eight careers in social justice
Here is a list of some of the most common careers in social justice. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on each salary link below:
National average salary: $31,445
Primary duties: The main responsibilities of a journalist include researching, interviewing, reporting and writing to inform the public of current events. Journalism has the ability to bring awareness and critical thinking to societal issues. Journalists that focus on social justice and human rights include investigative, watchdog and online journalism. These journalists share stories of vulnerable populations, expose injustices and work to ensure that societal powers are accountable for their actions.
Requirements: A minimum requirement for most journalists is a degree in journalism. However, some employers may accept a related field of study such as English, creative writing or political science.
Read more: Learn About Being a Journalist
National average salary: $42,094 per year
Primary duties: Victim advocates provide support to victims of domestic violence, human rights violations and abuse or witnesses of crime. Advocates offer victims help emotionally, financially and legally to aid in their decision making and return to normal life. Victim advocates are knowledgeable in resources like housing, counseling, finding employment and filing legal claims.
Requirements: Victim advocates typically hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Criminal Justice, Psychology or Victimology. Common master’s programs include social work, psychology or criminal justice.
3. Grant writer
National average salary: $50,330 per year
Primary duties: A grant writer is responsible for identifying and creating proposals for a company or organization to receive funding from the government or agencies. Many nonprofits and organizations rely on the funding from grants they apply to. Grant writers are expected to research grants, review grant guidelines and write proposals that meet the requirements.
Requirements: Grant writers typically have a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Writing, English, Communications or a related discipline. They may also take coursework or earn their degree in a discipline related to the organization or sector they write grants for, such as environmental or political science.
Read more: How To Become a Grant Writer
National average salary: $51,158 per year
Primary duties: There are many types of lawyers that fall under the social justice umbrella—included but not limited to human rights, social justice, public interest, government, immigration and civil rights. Lawyers spend most of their time working in fast-paced offices and courtrooms during cases. They may also travel to meet clients, witnesses and experts in their homes, workplaces, prisons or hospitals. It’s typical for a lawyer to work more than 40 hours a week.
Requirements: You must attend three years of law school to receive a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and pass the state bar exam to become a lawyer. In Virginia, Washington, Vermont and California, lawyers can take the bar exam without a JD. Ongoing education and renewal are required to secure and maintain your license.
Read more: Learn About Being a Lawyer
National average salary: $59,944 per year
Primary duties: A social worker is a professional who works with individuals and families with the goal of improving their lives by teaching mechanisms to overcome abuse, unemployment, mental illness, abuse, addiction, trauma and so on. There are a variety of settings and approaches in which a social worker can help, but commonly this is done through one-to-one counseling sessions where a relationship is built with clients.
Requirements: A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work is typically required to begin this career. Some related bachelor degrees may include psychology or sociology. Depending on the route you take in social work, a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) with a concentration may be required. MSW concentrations include, but aren’t limited to, school social work, mental health, and community and social systems. Some states require you to hold a social work license in order to provide any social work services or even carry a social worker title.
Read more: Learn About Being a Social Worker
National average salary: $61,835
Primary duties: Community developers work with marginalized communities by creating programs and projects, assisting in funding distribution and uniting members of the community. Responsibilities include assessing community needs, researching local trends, working with stakeholders, understanding legal regulations and developing plans. Work as a community developer can be done at nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations.
Requirements: Common bachelor’s degrees for a community developer include economics, social work or community development. Typical master’s programs may be public planning, urban planning or economic development.
National average salary: The exact data on the salaries of lobbyists is not readily available, but here are positions closely related to lobbyists with national average salaries:
Public relations manager: $61,229 per year
Political affairs officer: $107,055 per year
Campaign manager: $63,347 per year
Primary duties: A lobbyist is an activist who advocates a specific stance on a particular issue to influence legislators on behalf of individuals and organizations. The goal of their advocacy is to influence new legislation or amendments to existing laws and regulations. Lobbyists typically need a thorough understanding of federal government rules, structures and processes.
Requirements: Lobbyists come from various academic backgrounds and often hold a bachelor’s degree. The industry commonly prefers those with qualifications in law, political science, journalism, public relations, communication or economics.
Read more: Learn About Being a Lobbyist
National average salary: $83,379 per year
Primary duties: Policy analysts research national trends as it relates to social, economic, international and other political issues. Through this research, they are able to raise public awareness, influence public policy and political events. They also evaluate current policies and draft reports based on their findings to help with policy development and the implementation of new programs. Policy analysts can have a specialty or work on several different issues.
Requirements: Common bachelor’s degrees for policy analysts include public policy and political science. A master’s degree is typically required for policy analysts—popular degrees include Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Affairs.