How to Promote Diversity In Your Internship Program

Strategies to build an equitable internship program

March 23, 2021

With internship programs being an ongoing pipeline of future employees and a training ground for top talent, diversifying your internship program is critical for internal culture change and cultivating a diverse workforce. Diversity in the workplace, and specifically your internship program, increases intern morale, instills a desire to be more effective, increases productivity, and ultimately makes your interns feel valued and accepted. Just 30% of companies in a survey of over 300 (1), reported that their internship programs are diverse as they’d like. Thus, it’s clear diversity is a serious shortcoming in many programs. It’s time you take progressive action against this major issue and utilize these five strategies to combat homogeneity in your internship program (2).

Be Data Driven

When it comes to diversity, data is critical to measuring progress. Hiring data provides you with important insight, assuming you make the information a part of your diversity process. You should track how many interns you hire per internship cycle, and how many interns you hire from different sources, such as recruiting platforms, schools and universities, and employee referrals. Identify which source best helps you reach your diversity objectives and cater future recruitment to this source. Determining sources that aren’t working is equally as beneficial as it saves your company time, money, and energy. Further, data allows you to compare your diversity efforts with years prior, keeping your company’s diversification plan on track. Many companies have “elected to use data to motivate corrective improvements in how bias plays out in the workplace” (3), and use this data to discover its blindspots. It’s important to apply this metric to analyzing diversity in your internship program, instead of just in your full-time employees. Ultimately, your starting point for diversifying your internship program is simple - be data driven.

Broaden Your Horizon

Many companies attempt to solve their diversity shortcomings by sending recruiters to Historically Black Universities, such as Howard or Spelman. The issue is companies are relying on few schools to help them achieve their diversity goals, but ultimately these sources cater to only one form of diversity - race. For example, “at Spelman College, 30% of students come from Georgia and only 1% are international” (4). These hires will thus have similar backgrounds than if your company hired diverse students from a variety of schools and locations. It’s crucial your diversity strategies address all forms of diversity, not just one. Engage with a variety of sources that offer you access to different ethnic, racial, gender, religious, sexual, and disabled groups. Doing so will create a workplace that represents diversity in all regards.

Create a Mentorship Program for Young Students

A famous quote by Marian Wright Edelman perfectly summarizes the issue at hand; “you can’t be what you can’t see” (5). A majority of employers want to hire diverse candidates as a way to expand underrepresented perspectives in their company and industry. The issue? It’s hard for students to dream of working in an industry when they have few role models to look up to in that industry that reminds them of themselves. We as humans “rely on stories, examples, leaders, or in the purest, most basic form, images that inform us about who we are and what our potential is” (6). For example, when the typical engineer is portrayed as a man, it’s hard for women to comprehend the thought of working in that given industry. Or when 90.9% of sales representatives are white (7), those in the BIPOC community feel less inclined to pursue a similar role. Thus, it’s crucial you invest your time and money in offering young diverse students role models that resonate with them and encourage them to continue in their given field. A mentorship program targeting young diverse students is two fold; a way to diversify your company, build a stronger brand image, and increase company productivity, coupled with the opportunity to better your industry as a whole.

Share Your Diversity Policies and Goals

Organizations should avoid becoming a plural organization, an organization with a somewhat diverse workforce that solely tolerates differences, rather than values them. Sharing your diversity hiring policies forces accountability for diversification efforts. This accountability ultimately lowers the chance of any inconsistencies between words and actions. Being open and honest with a clear message on your company website discussing diversity policies and goals establishes a stronger relationship between diverse candidates and your company. With “67% of job seekers considering workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities” (8), it’s critical your company shares its diversity strategy and mission to create an inclusive workplace with the public. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Cater your diversity efforts to this known truth.

Ensure Every Intern Feels Seen

A diverse workplace is nothing without an inclusive culture. If you’re looking to harvest the benefits of a diverse workforce - productivity, employee engagement, and increased job satisfaction - don’t downplay the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace culture. An inclusive culture is one “in which respect, equity, and positive recognition of differences are cultivated, and the social and institutional response to a disability poses no barrier to a positive employment experience” (9). Despite the fact that the workforce is growing more diverse, “the majority of women feel excluded from decision making, do not feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and do not feel as though they can succeed” (8). To reiterate: diversity and inclusivity are not synonymous with one another. Building an inclusive workplace does not need to be an intimidating task. Fostering equity and inclusivity in your internship program can be achieved in small ways. Are you giving all your interns feedback regularly? Is your company's dress code inclusive? Are you valuing your interns’ abilities rather than limitations? Small actions go a long way in creating inclusivity. These actions lay the foundation for a diverse and equitable internship program. Ultimately, diversity is what you see; inclusion is what you feel. And it’s this feeling that’s memorable.

A diverse workplace is a major facet of the modern workforce, and the same goes for your internship program. Diversity and inclusion efforts are no longer viewed as separate from other business practices and are now expected to be a part of all levels of your organization. Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive internship program is mutually beneficial for both your company and your interns. Thus it’s time you utilize these six diversification strategies and create meaningful change by starting at your internship program.

For more information on creating successful internship programs, visit

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