Approaches To Power Inequity Within Organizations


Social Justice Approach

  • Acknowledges systems of oppression and structural and institutional barriers based on racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexuality, ability, age, immigration status, and other differences
  • Understands race, gender, and other aspects of identity to be socially constructed, tied to complex histories, and playing significant roles in how resources and power are distributed
  • Acknowledges the existence of privilege (advantages, access, favors, and benefits to members of dominant groups at the expense of members of marginalized groups) and the opportunity to challenge oppression from a place of privilege—as an ally
  • Committed to an ongoing process of self-education and coalition-building in order to create open and supportive environments and take collective, collaborative action for systemic change.

Cultural Competency Approach

  • Focuses attention on valuing unique worldviews of different communities
  • Advocates that people and groups develop their capacity or ability to work effectively across difference by growing culture-specific awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • May rely on generalizations around cultural identity as a means to understand groups and offer a sense of access

Multiculturalist Approach

  • Encourages tolerance and conflict-free diversity, often highlights achievements as a way to downplay systemic or structural barriers and inequalities
  • Highlights cultural life, cultural expression, cuisine, dress
  • Downplays race in favor of talking about and celebrating culture

Neutrality Approach

  • Dismisses significance of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, immigration status, ability, age
  • Thinks that not seeing race, ethnicity, or “color” is equivalent to not being racist
  • Asserts that everyone is “on the same playing field,” and has equal access to opportunity and advancement based on merit

Exclusionary Approach

  • Either proactively or inadvertently reinforces exclusion, disempowerment, marginalization, or discrimination of people of color, LGBTQ* people, women, or other marginalized groups of people
  • Requires those groups to assimilate to norms defined by dominant groups, if they are to participate at all
  • Tries to maintain the status quo for the dominant group


By no means a comprehensive list, and the categories above are not static or mutually exclusive.

[Adapted by AORTA from a handout from Leadership Development in Intergroup Relations/ Asian Americans Advancing Justice]

Blum, L.A., 1992, “Antiracism, Multiculturalism, and Interracial Community: Three Educational Values for a Multicultural Society” Office of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
“Conceptual Frameworks/Models, Guiding Values and Principles” National Center for Cultural Competence.

Eng, David L., “The End(s) of Race” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93.

Naber, Nadine C., “So Our History Doesn’t Become Your Future: The Local and Global Politics of Coalition Building Post September 11th” Journal of Asian American Studies 5, no. 3 (2002): 217-242.

Song, Sarah. “Multiculturalism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N Zalta (ed.).

Stacks, Jonathan. Andrés Meléndez Salgado, and Sara Holmes. “Cultural Competence and Social Justice: A Partnership for Change” Transitions: Serving Youth of Color. Volume 15, No. 3, January 2004.