How to Improve the Diversity of Your Internship Program
Updated: Feb 22
Diversity in the office brings new perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table, enabling companies to stay ahead of the curve and make better decisions. Most companies consider building a diverse organization a worthwhile investment. It keeps employees engaged, improves retention, and builds a company culture that lasts as a competitive advantage.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement. At the top of most organizations, executive offices are still drastically lacking diverse perspectives. According to data from 2020, 85% of executive employees are white. Black and Hispanic employees held just 2% and 3% of these positions, respectively.
At the opposite end of the corporate ladder, entry-level programs fall short. Diversity isn’t just a conversation at the top levels. In the US, 59% of employers surveyed in NACE’s 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey felt their company’s recruiting was ineffective in achieving a diverse cohort of interns.
This lack of diversity among interns should be concerning. Intern programs feed directly into full-time hires, full-time hires lead to managers, and so on. The diversity of your internship program will, in time, affect the diversity of your entire organization.
To best prevent homogeneous cohorts, it’s important your organization take the time to assess your current program, implement necessary changes, and develop a system to evaluate the program at least once a year. Take the action steps listed along the way, and you’ll develop an equitable and diverse internship program.
Begin by Assessing Your Current Program
You can’t improve your current program without knowing what’s causing a lack of diversity among your interns. Several aspects of your early career strategy can play a role in achieving a diverse cohort of interns. Without even realizing, your current strategy may be putting up barriers for candidates. Assess your current program by asking yourself the following questions:
What is the demographic makeup of your current interns?
Where are you posting your internship program to get the word out? Are these platforms accessible to a wide range of individuals, including underrepresented groups?
Are there any barriers to entry for certain candidate groups? Unpaid internships, limited recruiting reach, and applicant tracking systems have been shown to disproportionately affect underrepresented candidates.
Once you have a clear understanding of the current state of your internship program, you can identify areas for improvement. Every company will have a unique approach to setting their new strategy. Take the suggestions in the following sections and adapt to best fit your organization.
Alter Your Recruitment Strategy Accordingly
Take a hard look at your answers to the questions above. Where you go from here depends heavily on the current goals for your organization. Any improvement opportunities in your internship program should be prioritized to match your organization's goals.
If your internship program is unpaid or low-paid, for instance, consider freeing up space in your budget to offer your intern a higher pay. This will open the door to all undergraduate students undergoing financial instability, including underrepresented students, who statistically have less financial security than their white counterparts.
Widen Your University Reach
Partner with a wider range of universities: Companies can expand their university reach by partnering with a wider range of universities including associate degree programs or those catering to specific student populations. Connect with universities like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), or tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), as well as universities with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion.
Don’t forget, virtual recruitment options exist as a great option to reach schools that are not accessible for in-person visits.
Attend diversity-focused career fairs: Companies can attend career fairs focused on diversity and inclusion to connect with a more diverse pool of potential interns. These career fairs are often hosted by universities and organizations that are committed to promoting diversity in the workplace. Check with the universities you’re connected with to look for focused career fairs.
Partner with Outside Organizations
Partnering with an outside organization allows you to tap into a wider talent pool with a diverse range of candidates. Groups like your local Boys and Girls Club or the Thurgood-Marshall College Fund can be great partners. They often have high-school or college-facing programs that are always looking to get their students into work-based learning opportunities. Find new and talented individuals who wouldn’t have had the opportunity
to work for you, had you chosen against the partnership.
At Internship on Demand we’ve worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and Unchained Inc to connect college students and employers to find meaningful and impactful career launching opportunities!
Advertise Your Internship Program
Identify publications and online platforms that cater to underrepresented groups. They could be focused on diversity and inclusion as a whole, or targeted to specific demographic groups, such as women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ individuals. We’ve listed a few to get you started: DiversityInc, Hispanic Network Magazine, Black Enterprise, The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Women in Technology International (WITI). Many of these will have a clear system for advertising through their publication/platform, so be sure to check their website first! If you can’t find anything, a simple email query will do.
Craft targeted messaging: Once you’ve identified a few publications and/or online platforms, craft targeted messaging that speaks to the interests and needs of underrepresented groups. This can include highlighting the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion, showcasing the benefits of the internship program, and emphasizing the skills and experience that interns will gain.
Evaluate and Refine Your Program Regularly
Finally, it's essential to evaluate and refine your internship program regularly. Regular evaluations will allow you to measure the success of your program, identify areas for improvement, and make any necessary changes to ensure that your program remains inclusive and accessible to a diverse range of individuals.
A diverse internship program today builds your diverse workforce for tomorrow. By assessing your current program, developing a clear and inclusive recruitment strategy, and regularly evaluating and refining your program, you can create an inclusive internship program that will affect your company’s diversity as a whole. Never stop working towards a bigger, brighter, and more inclusive future!
To speed up the process of developing diversity in your internship program, reach out to our team at Internship on Demand to get started today.