When was the last time you hired a Black intern? If your company or organization has had an internship program for any period of time, and you can’t recall the last time you had a Black or Latinx intern, that is a problem. Just how diverse is your internship program?
After leading a team that placed 400+ diverse interns at major companies across the United States, I know what it looks like when companies invest the energy, resources and the money to expand and attract a more diverse intern pool. When a company or organization decides that they want change, they will take action to get the desired results.
It is time to step out of your comfort zone and find ways to connect with the wealth of talent within communities that have historically been overlooked. Hiring one Black or Brown intern out of many isn’t the solution. Your aim should be to create a company or even department that reflects the colorful, diverse world we live in.
If your internship class pictures look like the ones on the left, you got work to do.
Hiring the same interns yields the same type of full-time staff
Students who complete internships are more likely to get job offers. Frequently companies turn to their previous or current intern pools to fill open positions. Internships have essentially become eight-week job interviews. If the intern pool you turn to is 99% white, then you are going to keep having trouble trying to diversify your full-time staff.
According to the NACE 2019 Internship & Co-op Survey Report 56.1 percent of interns in the Class of 2018 were offered full-time positions. If you keep going back to the same pool of candidates, you won’t see a change.
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Your internship program isn’t just about growing your staff. These program increase your overall productivity by bringing in students who can make meaningful contributions. You can expose your staff to new perspectives, learn the new treands of Generation Z, and showcase yourself as a leader in your community who fosters growth in the overall workforce.
Check out Five Reasons to Start an Internship Program Now or if you are ready to move forward learn the 10 steps to launching a successful internship program.
Start at the Top
The road to diversity must be traveled from multiple directions. From the top, with an increase in Black executives in the c-suite and on down to the hiring of interns who can work their way up. Hiring interns and assisting them in their professional growth benefits a company in so many ways. When you bring in people from different backgrounds and cultures, they bring with them diverse prospectives that can enhance your bottom line.
When you invest in their growth, interns can flourish into leaders than can contribute massively to your company or even an entire industry.
- Oprah Winfrey started as an intern at WLAC-TV, a CBS affiliate in Nashville, TN. The station hired her as a full-time anchor-reporter. She became the first African-American female news anchor.
- Rosalyn Duran spent a summer as an affliate sales intern with ESPN. She was hired right after graduation. She is currently serving as Senior VP of Operations, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Water Parks for the Walt Disney World Resort. Prior to her recent role, she was Senior VP, College Networks.
- Ursula Burns, former Xerox CEO, and the first African-American woman to lead an S&P 500 company. Her career with Xerox started as a mechanical engineering intern.
- Brandon Thompson began his career in 2003 as an intern at Nashville Superspeedway, a role he applied for through the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program. Recently promoted from Managing Director of the NASCAR Touring Series he is now Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion.
The reality is, most companies and organizations look in the same places over and over again to fill their openings. Sadly, there are fewer women and Black CEO’s now then when Ursula left Xerox in 2016. There are currently only four black CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies – and they are all men. The issues, from top to bottom run deep, and the solutions must be from all levels too.
Expand Your Circle
Let’s not forget that many roles never even get posted. In reality, networking is how a lot of people go from intern to employee, company to company, promotion to promotion.
Typical conversations go like this: “I have a role, you know anyone that can XYZ, or might be interested in 123?”
You look through your contacts, think about the people you know and make the connection. Well, when you have a more diverse network, you will also get more diverse referrals. Get to know more Black people in your field. You can do that at professional conferences, trade shows, and through LinkedIn.
As your circle expands and you begin to ask a wider cross section of people “if they know anyone” for internships or job openings, you’ll see the demographic change in the people you find.
Creative On Campus Recruitment
Do you visit any Historically Black College or Universities (HBCU) as a part of your on campus recruitment strategy? “Today, there are 107 HBCUs with more than 228,000 students enrolled” (source). That is a lot of talent waiting to be tapped.
If you can’t make the trip to your nearest HBCU, you can always call and connect with the career services department or even an academic department to send out an email announcement for you, coordinate an online recruitment event or solicit resumes.
Outside of recruiting at an HBCU, you can also of course find Black and Brown students at all colleges across the country. Start by reaching out to the minority groups on campus. There are usually a number of groups that support minority students on campus like the Black Student Union, ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) groups, and Black fraternities and sororities.
Lastly, connect with professionals in on-campus and community organizations. When you need writers, check with the local National Association of Black Journalists in your community and at the local college campus. For your next engineering internship, post the position with the National Society of Black Engineers and reach out to the campus group. Do the work, do the outreach.
Partner with Professional Organizations
As I mentioned, I worked for a non-profit organization that connects talented minority students to companies for internships and entry to mid-level hires. The following is a list of non-profit organizations that work with company partners who want to increase diversity. These organizations touch a variety of industries.
If your industry isn’t covered, you can also check with local organizations to see what type of partnership you can create on your own. Be prepared, all of these organizations expect you to PAY your interns, rightfully so.
There are also many companies that have created their own internal diversity programs as well. You can check out my list of Diversity Internship Programs by company to see what others are doing. Companies like Google have the Google BOLD program or the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program. Your company or department maybe smaller, but you can still come away with ideas.
Leading Your Team
When you make the decision that you want to see change in your intern diversity, then you should share that with your team. Let them know that you are committed to creating opportunities, opening your eyes to finding talent in new places and about your desire to enhance your company or department by bringing in voices with different points of view.
This isn’t about checking a diversity box, it is about a commitment to a cultural shift.
Also, do not hire a Black intern then bring them into a toxic and hostile environment. Check your environment. Check your culture. Check the level of racism. Check the microaggressions (everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups).
If your environment is toxic and you don’t need an intern, you need a culture check. If #BlackLivesMatter makes people uncomfortable, you have work to do.
You might figure out that you need some diversity training and some tough conversations. You are not asking your team to get on board with “just” hiring Black interns, you are asking them to get on board with diversity, equality, openness, inclusion and change. Everything won’t be perfect, no one expects utopia tomorrow, but you lead by example. Take the time and responsibility to educate yourself, create and provide resources and educate others along the way.
Promote the Black people who keep getting overlooked. Hire talented Black interns who will impact your company or organization. At the same time, hire Black people for those permanent roles you have been trying to fill. Look for Black vendors when you have work to be done. We don’t want these opportunities because we are Black, we deserve them because we are more than qualified and ready.