Civil rights protect everyone’s right to equal social opportunities, protection under the law, and freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and other characteristics. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights includes many types of civil rights, such as freedom of movement, equality before the law, freedom of expression, and freedom from torture, slavery, and other harm and discrimination. Civil rights are essential to all sectors of society, so there are many careers dedicated to protecting them. In this guide, we’ll describe the types of available jobs, what organizations offer those jobs, and how to start working in civil rights.
Civil rights are fundamental rights and freedoms every person is entitled to, like freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and the right to public education. Jobs in this field include civil rights lawyer, civil rights researcher, housing advocate, activism coordinator, and interpreter/translator.
What kinds of jobs are there in civil rights?
Because civil rights encompass so many rights, there are lots of jobs in the field. Here are ten examples:
Civil rights lawyer
Civil rights lawyers defend the rights of individuals and groups. They’re typically called when a civil right has been violated. Lawyers file lawsuits on behalf of their clients, represent clients in court, conduct research, draft legal documents, and more. They may focus on a specific area, like the rights of children or immigrants.
Civil rights investigator
Civil rights investigators, who are often employed by local or national government agencies, investigate civil rights violations and ensure people are being protected. As an example, a civil rights investigator with a labor agency will focus on the rights of workers and enforce laws on wages, hours, conditions of employment, and more.
Civil rights researcher
Research is very important to civil rights organizations. The type of research can vary widely, but generally, civil rights researchers are responsible for collecting and organizing data. As an example, to learn more about gender-based violence, researchers may conduct surveys, interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups. Researchers are also often responsible for compiling the data into reports.
Housing advocates often come from social work backgrounds. They help individuals and families find temporary or permanent housing. Clients can include houseless people, people leaving domestic violence situations, formerly-incarcerated people, and others. Housing advocates work closely with other social services.
Healthcare can be fraught with civil rights violations. Patient advocates help clients navigate complex, stressful healthcare settings and get the care they’re entitled to. They may be hired by the healthcare organization itself or as part of a nonprofit organization. They help patients communicate with healthcare providers, schedule appointments, figure out insurance, and access financial and legal support.
Activism coordinators work with organizations to raise awareness of civil rights issues and mobilize support. They’re typically very organized, motivated, and quick thinking. They communicate well with diverse groups and unite people behind a common cause. Their tasks can include organizing events, speeches, fundraisers, and campaigns.
Language barriers can lead to and exacerbate civil rights violations. Interpreters and translators, who can work in just about any organization like a law firm or a hospital, help clients communicate and advocate for their needs. It can be done verbally or through written communication. Good interpreters/translators can communicate the emotion and nuanced aspects of a language as well as literal information.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist
DEI specialists, who can work within an organization or come in as a consultant, work to improve an organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, strategies, and overall environment. They’re excellent communicators who are trained in things like conflict management and civil rights law. DEI specialists come from a variety of backgrounds, but most have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Voter outreach specialist
Voting is an essential civil right, but unfair barriers prevent many people from exercising their rights. Voter outreach specialists perform tasks like voter education, election awareness campaigning, and election worker recruitment. They’re typically nonpartisan and work to educate and encourage anyone eligible to vote.
Every civil rights organization needs a good accountant. These finance officers ensure an organization’s long-term success and compliance with the law. Responsibilities include maintaining and preparing financial records, evaluating financial risks, and making sure all taxes are filed and paid properly.
What organizations offer civil rights jobs?
Many governments and corporations offer civil rights jobs or jobs adjacent to civil rights, but here are five examples of organizations dedicated to civil and human rights:
Amnesty International is a Britain-based advocacy organization. It focuses on research, advocacy, lobbying, and campaigns. Researchers, advocates, lawyers, and other professionals can find job opportunities at the organization. It began with a focus on prisoners of conscience but has since expanded to calling for an end to the death penalty and protecting rights like reproductive freedom, children’s rights, freedom of expression, and more.
UN Women is a UN entity dedicated to women’s rights. It supports member states, governments, and civil society organizations on laws, policies, and services related to women’s rights. Its priority areas are women in leadership; women’s income security and economic autonomy; freedom from violence; and sustainable peace, resilience, and benefits from humanitarianism. It hires professionals like researchers, policy advisors, administrators, and others.
The United Nations Children’s Fund is a UN agency. With a presence in more than 190 countries and territories, it focuses on the rights of children. Priority areas include child survival, child protection, education, social policy, emergencies, and research. There are jobs available in management, programs, external relations, and executive management.
The ACLU bases its work on the United States Constitution and civil rights policies around the country. Since 1920, the organization has worked with litigation and lobbying. It also represents people whose civil rights have been violated. It’s a nonpartisan organization, and so represents a wide variety of people whose rights are threatened or violated. It has job opportunities in communications, legal, advocacy, operations and management, and so on.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has been the United States’ leading civil rights organization for Latinos since 1968. Through court cases and public policy, it seeks to protect and defend the rights of Latinos and all Americans. Target areas include education, employment, immigrant rights, voting rights, and access to justice. Jobs are available on the legal, digital media, and development side of the organization.
How much do jobs in civil rights pay?
Wages vary widely within civil rights depending on several factors. They include:
Civil rights lawyers generally make more than a professional like a housing advocate. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a civil rights lawyer in the US is $108,482 a year. For housing advocates, the average is $43,666.
The job’s seniority
Jobs with more leadership responsibilities and seniority pay more than entry-level jobs.
Your past job experience
In a similar vein, your years of experience and what your previous job paid factor into your salary.
Salaries include cost-of-living adjustments, if the job is located in an area with a higher cost of living, you’ll be paid more than if you lived in an area with a low cost of living. Civil rights professionals also tend to earn more if they’re based in a dangerous area. As an example, the UN has a hardship allowance.
When calculating a salary, organizations often look at what others in their field are paying employees. Similar jobs tend to get similar salaries across an industry.
Size of the organization
Large organizations have larger budgets, which often means they can offer larger salaries. This isn’t necessarily the case; employees of some large NGOs are still underpaid, but size can be a factor when calculating wages.
How do you start working in civil rights?
There’s no single path that takes you to a job in civil rights, but there are certain things you can do to increase your chances for a sustainable, long-term career. They fall into three categories: education, experience, and skill-building.
People who work in civil rights come from diverse educational backgrounds. If you work in law, you’ll want a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. If you work in healthcare, you’ll likely need at least a bachelor’s in a science field, like health sciences, nursing, biology, and so on. Generally speaking, business, political science, human rights, international relations, sociology, regional studies, and history are good degrees for a future in civil rights. How much education will you need? You can find jobs that only require a bachelor’s degree or even an associate’s, but if you want a higher-level job, you may need a master’s and even a doctorate. If you aren’t ready to commit to a full degree, consider taking an online course to explore your interests.
Experience is often the most important factor when preparing to work in civil rights. Organizations want people with experience learning about and working on the most pressing civil rights issues with diverse teams and communities. Early experience often includes volunteer work and internships. Because many internships are unpaid, many people have trouble gaining experience. Slowly, organizations are offering more paid internships, fellowships, and other programs that expand access.
Civil rights jobs can look very different in terms of roles and responsibilities, but there are skills organizations always look for. Excellent time management, good teamwork, adaptability, and excellent communication are just a few. Job descriptions also list the specific skills the organization is looking for, so when you’re exploring, be sure to note what skills they want and how you can demonstrate them.