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Internships: The Secret Sauce to Increasing DEI?

Written by Anna George on September 7, 2022
4 min read

“Ultimately, diverse teams make better decisions,” Anjali Lalani, Smith Center Interns and Fellows Program Administrator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains. “If the team has different viewpoints and experiences, they have fewer blind spots and do better work.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is central to creating and sustaining a successful workplace where people can develop at both personal and professional levels. As critical as it is, achieving DEI in the workplace can be complex, with no guarantee of immediate results. For employers and HR professionals, a significant challenge is knowing where to start. Are internships the secret sauce to increasing DEI at the workplace? How can you leverage internship programs to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in your company?

What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Diversity is the manifestation of differences in the workplace. These differences can be based on racial, ethnic, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and socioeconomic class. Equity means making sure that procedures and plans are unbiased, just, and give each person the best outcomes possible. Inclusion entails ensuring people feel comfortable, supported, and have a sense of belonging in the workplace.

The DEI ethos prioritizes inclusivity and workforce wellbeing as key elements of success, and acknowledges the value of varied viewpoints. Companies must develop programs and activities that actively create workspaces that are more diverse, equal, and inclusive in order to bring these principles to life.

Why DEI Matters for Your Business

From a business point of view, diverse perspectives can have a direct impact on how a product is developed, who it serves, and how it works. People with various life experiences and perspectives can offer fresh ideas that fine tune products and processes.

Equitable employers foster inclusive and diverse work environments where people express their unique viewpoints, show respect for one another’s needs, and develop to their fullest potential without hindrances. Inclusive workplaces hence experience more innovation, higher financial returns, and are more likely to outperform competitors.

DEI-focused organizations have the ability to provide everyone with equitable employment opportunities, develop flexible work environments, assemble diverse teams, and train staff to recognize and combat internal prejudice.

How Internship Programs Can Help You Hit Your DEI Goals

According to the NACE 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey, the 2020-21 intern cohorts continued to see white male overrepresentation, indicating a gender and racial imbalance in access to internship opportunities. Despite some progress in the representation of historically marginalized groups, women and students of color are still underrepresented compared to their student population.

Enhancing diversity is becoming a critical goal for most organizations. A study by NACE reports that 88% of employers have a diversity recruiting program, with 67% allocating more funds to recruit for diversity. Despite this upsurge in diversity recruiting, the NACE survey reports that only 41.4% of the study respondents believe their intern recruitment strategy is achieving diversity. 

Here are ways internship programs can help your company attain and sustain diversity, equity, and inclusion:

1. Diversified Sourcing

Running an internship program can enable you to deliberately source candidates from diverse demographics to meet your desired representation ratios. Diversity is all about having different perspectives on the same issues, but how diverse and inclusive can your interns be if you consistently hire students from the same source?

Expand your recruiting efforts by making it simpler for students to apply online to your internship opportunities from hundreds, or even thousands, of schools. Casting a wider net could allow you to reach more students, broaden the pool of candidates you attract, and increase the likelihood of having an inclusive cohort. Also, consider sourcing your interns from HBCUs to improve the diversity of your internship program.

Besides diversifying your sourcing strategies, you should also identify which of your sources are most effective at helping you achieve your company's diversity goals. You can do this by analyzing the number of students you hire by source and identifying which sources are giving you more diverse interns that convert. If you find that one source is more effective than others, leverage that source to enable you to meet the organizational diversity objectives.

2. Conduct Student Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs for diverse students can allow you to attract these students to your internship program. For instance, mentoring high schoolers from historically marginalized groups can enable you to create an early connection with them. When they join college, you can continue mentoring them in areas such as career development, work-life balance, etc.

These students can easily be at the front of the queue when there are internship positions available at your company. Since you have been with them for a while, they already know the company and are therefore likely to fit into the company’s culture quickly.

An example of a mentorship program is the Google Summer of Code program. Every year, Google sponsors this program where students develop code for various open source projects. The program brings together students from all over the world and selected mentoring organizations, where the mentees work with the organizations on a software project. Students receive a stipend and may find work in their areas of interest.

Zynga, the social game developer, also runs a mentorship program focused on next-generation talent. The company’s internship program offers interns all the benefits of full-time employees and the chance to explore personal projects while building professional networks.

3. Provide Bespoke Assistance

As you invest in sourcing and attracting diverse interns, it’s essential to recognize that some may not take up the position because of inherent disadvantages, such as distance and accommodation. You can bridge this inequity by providing bespoke support, such as relocation benefits, healthcare benefits, etc. to diversify your internship program. This allows candidates who would have otherwise reneged to take up the offer and give you a leg up in building a diverse talent pipeline and workforce.

4. Offer Competitive Compensation for Interns

Internship compensation is a crucial component for enhancing the diversity of your program. A competitive compensation package attracts students from different demographics, broadening your diverse talent pool. Also, designing an attractive compensation package pushes interns to do their best and increases the chances of converting them into FTEs.

Foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Symba

Build a more diverse and inclusive internship program with the all-in-one Symba platform. The platform enables you to track and measure DEI metrics including demographics like intern ethnicity, pronouns, schools attended, and use this data to optimize your program for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Book a demo today to understand where your internship program stands in terms of diversity and to improve your program recruitment strategy!

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Anna George

Anna George is a Digital Marketing Intern at Symba. Previously, Anna has worked as a Communications Intern for a nonprofit organization. She graduated with her BAJMC in Advertising and Minor in Sociology at Drake University. Outside of work, you will find her out and about searching for unique small businesses in her area or playing with her dog!

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