Advocating for Social Justice: A Shared Approach to Leadership

July 06, 2023

Breneil Malcolm

M.Ed. in Higher Education

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Social justice has become a prominent topic in conversations around human rights advocacy, and it’s important to be aware of its presence in the workforce. The foundational idea of social justice involves equality and equity in the distribution of resources, rights and access. In the professional setting, creating systems that underscore the values of diversity, equity and inclusion is crucial to redefining organizational cultures that promote social justice.

This process is often viewed as a top-down leadership initiative. However, a culture of social justice can only be successfully fostered when imagined through reciprocal top-down and bottom-up processes. In short, each of us must realize our roles as advocates for social justice to succeed.

Social justice follows various definitions, but most agree that it moves beyond the realm of equality to truly encompass equity in supporting those who are disadvantaged because of factors not within their control. It’s the leader’s responsibility to establish structures that enhance social just ideals, but they must also motivate their teams to realize the power they have to enact such ideals themselves. The horizontal and vertical power distribution challenges that inevitably plague organizational dynamics, especially in highly diverse contexts, must be explicitly acknowledged, addressed and navigated by leadership.

This deconstruction of traditional power structures in favor of more empowerment of followers can be achieved through a shared approach to leadership. The shared leadership approach assumes a distributive model, where the leader divides leadership across the team. The leader doesn’t independently exert their power, but rather seeks to empower followers so that they actively participate in leadership decisions and activities. So how can leaders support more distribution in their leadership toward greater shared social justice advocacy?

  1. Educating on Shared Leadership: Leaders must take an active role in educating their team members on how leadership is shared, both theoretically and operationally.
  2. Normalizing Everyone as Leaders: Leaders must normalize everyone being labeled a leader. A few ways of accomplishing this include communication mechanics and use of language that supports inclusive, distributive leadership.
  3. Ongoing Training on Systemic Issues: Issues of power and justice must be at the forefront of leadership conversations and training. That is how awareness will continuously be advanced.
  4. Cultures of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A culture that supports DEI must be fostered through policy and practice.
  5. Feedback: Feedback systems must be established to ensure continuous process refinement.

The establishment of an empowered social justice workforce begins with the transformation of each of our perspectives of self. Until we can each reimagine ourselves as a leader within our own domain supporting a greater organizational goal, we can’t effectively create cultures that foster the interrelated power exchanges that enable each of us to be advocates for social justice.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Breneil Malcolm
Breneil Malcolm, M.Ed. in Higher Education

Breneil Malcolm graduated from ACE with an M.Ed. in Higher Education, with a focus of study in Leadership. They are currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Design and Technology with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Their research interests focus on diversity, equity and inclusion through the interdisciplinary frameworks of pedagogical, psychological and critical theories.

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