Cultivating Initiatives for Equity and Social Justice in Career Services: Multiple Opportunities and Pathways

By Christian D. Chan, Mary Parker, Cheryl Love, Kyle Inselman, Ruben Britt, Jr., David Julius Ford, Jr.

Career development was founded upon a history of advocacy, which ultimately gave rise to its connection with roots in social justice and equity (Pope, 2012; Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2017). Fundamentally, career development has served as a pathway towards liberation for historically marginalized communities (e.g., people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, working class individuals, differently-abled communities, womxn) by affirming identity and meaning, realizing the value of alternative pathways, and increasing the recognition of both opportunities and barriers embedded within society (Chan, 2019). Practices in career development generally emphasize providing resources and designing matches with the intention of best fit for clients and students; however, career development has holistically broadened this idea by questioning which individuals and groups with power, especially groups often represented in society (e.g., white, upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual), have determined this meaning (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 2014; Patton & McMahon, 2017). Although intended to provide individualized services, clients and students can face societal barriers (e.g., institutional discrimination, labels, lack of representation, incivility) that shape their identity and willingness to forge certain career pathways. Although potentially related to the imbalance of resources and access in various settings, inequities also relate to clients’ experiences of exclusion, where they may not feel welcomed, represented, or honored for their cultural values (Fickling & Gonzalez, 2016). Although career practitioners, in particular, have increasing opportunities to work collaboratively with clients to navigate systemic barriers (McMahon, 2017) and form their own capacity for agency (Hutchison, 2015), career practitioners have a responsibility to advocate for their clients on a much wider systemic level across settings (Fickling, Lancaster, & Neal, 2018; National Career Development Association [NCDA], 2015).

Given this distinct capacity for agency, career practitioners have more recently focused on creating meaning that maintains culturally responsive practice by affirming the values, norms, and worldviews of diverse clients, students, and constituents (NCDA, 2009; Swanson & Fouad, 2015). With the newly approved NCDA Diversity Statement (2017) designed by the NCDA Committee on Diversity Initiatives and Cultural Inclusion, targeting privilege, oppression, and their intersections among groups, communities, and society has become an action-oriented idea for a number of career practitioners. Considering this intersectional perspective, career practitioners acknowledge the variety of forms of oppression in response to their interrelated social identities including, but not limited to race, gender identity, ethnicity, social class, ability status, spirituality, regional identity, sexual identity, and affectional identity.

Initiatives for Career Services

Career services involving multiple constituency groups, such as counselor educators, researchers, students, higher education, K-12, and private practice, can benefit from taking a much wider systemic perspective in the expansion of their scope of practice. Reaching for aspirations of equity and social justice includes creating programs and initiatives that invite community members, specifically from historically marginalized communities, to participate and engage in career services. To share such initiatives, we provide specific examples of career services attending to the promise of social justice and equity within their respective communities.


The Career Closet

An example of a social justice initiative at the University of Denver has been the Career Closet, spearheaded in 2018-19 by the Career & Professional Development Graduate Fellow, Chloe Theobald. Carrying on the tradition of professional attire programs providing low- or no-cost attire to students, the Career Closet is completely free for all students and integrates gender equity and LGBTQIA equity by separating the clothes by two categories: shirts/jackets/dresses, and pants/skirts. The clothes were divided in this way to ensure that no one would have to choose clothes based on being “men’s” or “women’s”—rather only based on if the clothes fit and met their tastes. This particular intersectional program is designed to meet the needs of students with financial need and students in LGBTQ+ communities. When choosing a physical space on campus, the Career Closet was set up in a space that was intentionally ADA-accessible, further contributing the program’s inclusion efforts. Career counselors and specialists can consider these intersections when developing any type of programming by asking the following:

  • Who does this program serve?
  • How can it be expanded to serve others?
  • What systemic barriers can this program help to alleviate for all who are affected by them?


Womxn’s Leadership Institute

There are significant gaps in leadership associated with gender, rendering significant changes in workplace practices, attainment of leadership positions, representation, and equitable pay. Designed by Cal Poly Pomona’s Womxn’s Resource Center and Student Affairs, this initiative was created to celebrate womxn and provide skills and empowerment to engage in future leadership capacities. During the two-day institute, trained facilitators from faculty, staff, and administrators develop student leaders according to the Emotionally Intelligent Leadership guide by Shankman, Allen, and Haber-Curran (2015). The guide forms the content for (a) Consciousness of Self; (b) Consciousness of Others; and (c) Consciousness of Context (Shankman et al., 2015) while culminating in a Conversation with Womxn Leaders panel throughout the Cal Poly Pomona campus.


A Viewpoint from Community College Career Services

At Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity are grandfathered into the college’s existence. CCCC is located in a rural area in a small town, which emphasizes the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion to advance the county’s industrial, economic, and social capital. There are several programs CCCC offers in attempts to develop students who not only value diversity and inclusion, but also innovation, creativity, and sustainability. CCCC enhances the career education component by including civic engagement, leadership, cultural, and social programs and initiatives while increasing student engagement for a much more extensive connection with local and campus communities. These programs include athletics, a student government association, and academic excellence programs. They help to connect the entire college body—faculty, students, staff, administrators, and local communities—to the importance of social justice, equity, and an increase in diversity and inclusion, particularly with surrounding rural communities. The college also encourages participation in forums for open discussion and critical thinking on these topics. CCCC’s institutional effectiveness department also distributes an annual survey to evaluate diversity and inclusion initiatives by giving employees, faculty, and students the opportunity to voice constructive feedback.


Foundations to Build Upon

Although these examples are not exhaustive, they serve as a foundation to build upon gaps within career services and extend access and strengths of historically marginalized communities. More importantly, these ideas alert career practitioners to a variety of equity and social justice initiatives, including mentorship programs, institutes emphasizing cultural capital and strengths of historically marginalized communities, and workshops delivered specifically to the community.


More on this topic will be presented at the 2019 NCDA Global Career Development Conference in Houston, TX, June 28th – presentation #204.



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Gysbers, N. C., Heppner, M. J., & Johnston, J. A. (2014). Career counseling: Holism, diversity, and strengths (4th ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Fickling, M. J., & Gonzalez, L. M. (2016). Linking multicultural counseling and social justice through advocacy. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 3(2), 85-94. doi:10.1080/2326716X.2015.1124814

Fickling, M. J., Lancaster, C., & Neal, A. V. (2018). Social justice in career services: Perspectives of university career center directors. The Career Development Quarterly, 66(1), 64-76. doi:10.1002/cdq.12122

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

McMahon, M. (2017). Work and why we do it: A systems theory framework perspective. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 33(2), 9–15.

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National Career Development Association. (2015). NCDA code of ethics. Broken Arrow, OK: Author.

Niles, S. G., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. E. (2017). Career development interventions in the 21st century (5th ed.). New York City, NY: Pearson.

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (2017). The systems theory framework of career development. In J. P. Sampson, E. Bullock-Yowell, V. C. Dozier, D. S. Osborn, & J. G. Lenz (Eds.), Integrating theory, research, and practice in vocational psychology: Current status and future directions (pp. 50-61). Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University.

Pope, M. (2012). Embracing and harnessing diversity in the US workforce: What have we learned? International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 12(1), 17-30. doi:10.1007/s10775-012-9215-x

Shankman, M. L., Allen, S. J., & Haber-Curran, P. (2015). Emotionally intelligent leadership: A guide for students (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Swanson, J. L., & Fouad, N. A. (2015). Career theory and practice: Learning through case studies (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.



Chan ChristianChristian D. Chan, PhD, NCC is an Assistant Professor of Counseling at Idaho State University and President-Elect of the Association for Adult Development and Aging (AADA). His interests revolve around intersectionality; multiculturalism in counseling, supervision, and counselor education; social justice; career development; critical research methods; acculturative stress; intergenerational conflict; and cultural factors in identity development and socialization. His prior professional experiences include case management with foster care adolescents, career development, higher education administration, and individual, couples, parent-child, group, and family counseling services. He is a recent recipient of the ACA Robert Rencken Emerging Professional Leader Award, AADA President’s Outstanding Service Award, and ALGBTIC Ned Farley Service Award. Christian can be reached at chanchr2@isu.edu.




Mary Parker Mary Parker is the Career Center Director at Central Carolina Community College, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator and an active  member of the Society of Human Resource Management Central Carolina Chapter. She has a local radio program entitled "CCCC in the Spotlight" aired by WXKL 1290AM. She also has the pleasure of writing employability training articles for the Dunn Daily Record (DDR). Other job titles held Employment Consultant, Adjunct College Faculty, and Employee Relations Specialist. Ms. Parker has a Master’s in Human Resources Management from North Carolina A&T State University and a Post Masters Certificate in College Teaching and Adult Learning from the University of North Carolina -Greensboro. Mary can be reached at mpark201@cccc.edu.




Cheryl LoveCheryl Love serves as a Career Counselor and Liaison to the College of Education and Integrative Studies and the Bronco Dreamers Resource Center at Cal Poly Pomona. She has been a member of the Cal Poly Pomona Career Center Team since February 2014. Cheryl has 30+ years of experience as a counselor and teacher. Cheryl has a Master’s Degree in Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Service Credential from California State University, Fullerton and a Doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Counseling. She also is on the Executive Board of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. In 2017, Cheryl was the recipient of the Outstanding Advisor of the Year and Diversity Champion Award and the National Association of University Women (NAUW) 2018 March Church Terrell Award.  Additionally, she is the recipient of the 2019 Champion for Fighting Student Hunger Award offered by the Cal Poly Pomona Basic Needs Initiative. She serves on the National Career Development Association –  Diversity Initiatives & Cultural Inclusion Committee and the Multicultural Resources Subcommittee. Cheryl can be reached at calove@cpp.edu.




Kyle InselmanKyle Inselman, M.Ed., is a Career Advisor at the University of Denver serving undergraduates in the liberal arts. Kyle also focuses on social justice education and initiatives in career services and is a member of NCDA’s Committee on Diversity Initiatives & Cultural Inclusion. Kyle can be reached at kyle.inselman@du.edu.




Ruben BrittRuben Britt, Jr. has over 40 years of experience in education as both a career services practitioner and as a teacher. Currently, he is the assistant director of the Office of Career Advancement at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Prior to working at Rowan University, he was the coordinator of Career Services at Richard Stockton University, the director of Cooperative Education & Internship Placement at Bloomsburg University, a teacher in the Boston Public Schools district and a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Testing Service, the New Jersey Department of Higher Education and several colleges and community organizations. Ruben is the author of four books and he has written two chapters for the best seller book The Last Job Search Guide You’ll Ever Need.  Ruben is the host of Career Talk on WGLS-FM. Ruben can be reached at britt@rowan.edu.


David FordDavid Julius Ford, Jr., PhD, LPC, NCC, ACS, is a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Professional Counseling at Monmouth University. He holds a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, both from Wake Forest University. In May 2014, he earned his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Old Dominion University. As a Ph.D. student, he provided career and academic planning for undergraduate Human Services Majors. Dr. Ford’s professional interests are Black Greek life; multicultural issues; college students; African American men in higher education; career counseling; addictions counseling; supervision; group work; qualitative research; queer persons of color; and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Ford can be contacted at dford@monmouth.edu.


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