Advocating, Educating, Inspiring: The Expanding Role of Career Professionals

By Angela Londoño-McConnell

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.


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.


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 Londono-McConnellDr. 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 angela@akcconline.com

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Bernadette Black   on Saturday 09/01/2012 at 07:58 PM

Your linking career development and social justice is inspired. With close oto 40 years of career counseling experience, I have always believed that we save lives but your linking what we do to a broader body of scholarship is meaningful and important. Bravo to you for raising our awareness and helping us to see an even bigger picture!!

Duane Brown   on Monday 09/03/2012 at 09:44 AM

An additional word about context and education. The context for the American worker is the global economy. Our clients, whether they be organizations or individuals, must cope, compete, and survive in this economy. Trade barriers and tariffs will not protect our workers from the skilled, cheaper labor forces that exist in many parts of the world. Whatever else we do, our clients must become aware of the economic reality in which they live.

Research shows us that the work ethic of our labor force is declining. The average worker wastes as much as 2 hours per work day The idea that working well and hard is a value judgement that we may very well want to promote. Also, it is well documented that our schools are not preparing students, particulalry minority students, for the technical labor force. (e. g., Look at data from NYC Chicago, and San Francisco) I'm not sure CD specialists can do much to influence the global economy. However, we can do much to influence our educational institutions if we focus our efforts.

Martin Jaffe, MCC   on Thursday 09/06/2012 at 10:43 AM

I am perplexed that an article on advocacy and social justice makes no mention on the systematic assault over the last 25 years on American labor unions, both private and public sector--as wages, benefits and working conditions have become worse for a cross section of Americans of blue collar and white collar and the ability of workers to question, suggest and improve the quality of real world work life has diminished, the terms advocacy and social justice in this article are vague and unsubstantiated, sort of career counseling in a vacuum while in the real world of work Hobbesian conditions of short, nasty and brutish are becoming all too common.

Julie Tregloan   on Thursday 09/06/2012 at 01:50 PM

The educating and inspiring part I get; but I'm still figuring out how to advocate for clients, particularly, those in low income employment. Anyone have ideas/resources/forums for doing this?

Bill Freed   on Thursday 09/06/2012 at 08:19 PM

Love the article, agree on union issues, and a suggested resource on advocacy is the best practice library at/in workforce3one.org

Also, in Greater Pgh., Industry Cluster projects do just that also, with special tracks to employment for targeted key communities and providers---and our unions lead many here.

Rich Feller   on Friday 09/07/2012 at 06:48 PM

Your keynote in Atlanta was very powerful and its great to see you in Career Convergence continuing to share your experience. The comments generated show the import of the topic! Please stay close to NCDA as we need to keep this topic alive. Thanks

Liz Bradley   on Wednesday 09/26/2012 at 11:07 AM

My article published in the Constructing the Future VI: Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice (2011): titled 'The emergence of a tool to aid reflective practice and assist practitioners unearth taken-for-granted assumptions' acknowledges some of the issues highlighted in this article. It discusses how guidance today is delivered in diverse settings to clients from as many diverse backgrounds. Further, it questions the lack of awareness relating to cultural, whiteness and taken-for-grantedness assumptions. My research focuses on how practitioners use their reflective practice to unearth these aspects of self and how ignored taken-for-granted assumptions reinforce inequalities and disadvantage.

Larry Robbin   on Tuesday 07/01/2014 at 08:25 PM

Thank you so much for this enlightened article. I have felt that much of the career counseling field seems to stand apart from the growing wage and opportunity gap issue in our country. It often feels like the career counseling field is fiddling while Rome burns. We emphasize people improving their human capital - education, training, skills etc. while social capital i.e. connections often dominate. The playing field is not level. I can tell you as someone with forty-five years of private sector consulting experience that career opportunity injustice is rampant in America. In addition, almost everything a career counselor says to people is political in some way. Advice always comes from a class, cultural and political context whether the counselor knows it or not. The career counseling field needs to find an appropriate strategy to address the political and opportunity reality faced by the people we serve. Thanks again for your eloquent and very relevant comments.

Tracy Diilippis   on Wednesday 07/02/2014 at 06:19 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with this reflection. Suggestive of facilitating self-determination within the people we serve. Parson's understood the work of vocational development is liberating. Thank you for this well written piece.

Neasa Martin   on Tuesday 07/15/2014 at 04:14 PM

GREAT ARTICLE! Thank you for taking an important issue. I am currently working on the development of a guide funded by CERIC for career service workers (CSW) to improve their ability to support clients with mental health issues who seek out their services. The fact that 90% of people living with serious mental health issues face unemployment, want to work, feel they are able but are confronted by attitudinal barriers about their perceived capacity, structural barriers regarding disability support policies that limit employment and discriminatory practices makes this a critical social justice issue. I hope to inspire CSW to see advocacy as central to their role. I will reference your article as a resource!

Rich Feller   on Wednesday 08/06/2014 at 08:49 AM

Larry…your observation about the structural damage done to opportunity is spot on. The global economy, skills biased reward system, and growing acknowledgement that robots replace 1.5 workers and algorithms make machines intelligence is increasingly understood by those of us asking difficult questions about power distribution, jobless growth, tax policy values, and wealth distribution. I find many in career counseling feel what you feel and are taking on an activist role. And the notion of privilege is well worth examining in all of us as children face both great opportunities and challenges as the bifurcated income, educational access divide and skill distribution grows.
Thanks for your spirited comment and help us learn what steps we might take in practice, policy and within NCDA…and I hope you will attend NCDA conferences, make presentations, and write more so we all can learn from your information and experience…best Rich Feller, NCDA Past President.

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.