Episode 296: How Remote Internships Can Bridge the Disability Employment Gap

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.

Episode 296: How Remote Internships Can Bridge the Disability Employment Gap with Symba (@Symba_io)

Today, I’m joined by Ahva Sadeghi and Paula Mora with Symba, a venture backed and all-female founded tech startup focused on the future of work. 

Ahva is the co-founder & CEO of Symba. She is an economist and researcher focused on remote work and workforce development. Prior to launching Symba, Ahva worked at the US Department of State in the Human Rights Bureau and completed a civil rights fellowship with Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta. She was recently named Forbes 30 Under 30 and a Global Entrepreneur Scholar by the US Department of State. 

Paula is a founding member of Symba. Prior to joining Symba, Paula worked at the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. Paula completed her graduate studies at IE Business School in Spain and holds a BA in International Relations from Florida International University. Paula is passionate about professional development for at-risk-youth, immigrants, and people of color. 

I asked Ahva and Paula how Symba works with companies and workforce development programs. Paula said, “When we initially started doing the research with around 250 companies, we discovered that they were using eight to 11 different platforms and tools to manage their program. Our platform supports the management of remote, hybrid, and in-person talent development programs, we actually started off by supporting internship programs, and have scaled to support fellowships, bootcamps, accelerators, apprenticeships, and more.”

“On our platform, organizations can easily onboard, manage projects, design training curriculum, and foster community amongst all program participants. Our platform also collects key success metrics and builds dashboards that help organizations track the long-term impact of their workforce development programs.”

“Inclusivity is truly at the center of why we do what we do. Our mission at Symba is to #openuptheworkforce.” - Paula Mora @Symba_io #WorkologyPodcast #PEAT Click To Tweet

Remote, or hybrid working, has accelerated so much because of the pandemic. I asked if Symba has seen changes in the types of companies reaching out or in volume or types of internships and apprenticeship programs. Ahva said “this was a major shift, especially for us as a startup. When we started pushing remote internships in the early days, many companies refused to consider it. This past year, the increase in remote internships is seven-fold, and many companies are reaching out to us with more urgency, our team had to rush to meet demand, and our clients were scaling their programs too. This was a wake up call for organizations wondering if they had the capacity to support remote internships.”

“This was a wake up call for organizations wondering if they had the capacity to support remote internships.” - @ahva_sadeghi @Symba_io #WorkologyPodcast #PEAT Click To Tweet

Accenture found that companies who hire people with disabilities earn 28% higher revenue than their competitors. Paula said that their top priorities in building their platform were accessible technologies and flexibility. “As a startup, it was really important for us to ensure that the technology was designed right from the beginning. We’re improving our technology as we scale.”

How Remote Internships and Apprenticeships Can Level the Playing Field

I asked how remote internships and apprenticeships help level the playing field for people with disabilities, especially those beginning their careers and looking for on the job experience. Ahva said, “this is core to our mission and the reason why we began working on Symba. PWD often struggle significantly when starting out in their careers. A remote internship can alleviate challenges. New graduates with disabilities may be concerned about navigating the process for the first time. If they have a home setup that works for them now, that can be the best option.”

Ahva added that “our team put together a resource guide on how to disclose disabilities to employers. It’s important that employers are creating an environment for their employees to succeed, and that means meeting them where they are. Remote work is a great option for PWD to foster diversity in the workplace.”

Paula added, “We have worked with employers across industries, from retail to government agencies, to fin-tech and healthcare. For example, we’ve been working closely with Robinhood, a leading fintech company, to help them scale their remote internship program. They started off with 25 interns and have scaled to over 100 interns on our platform.”

“Our customers are able to easily scale their programs because our platform makes the management of these programs turnkey and removes all the heavy lifting of having to re-create workforce development programs from scratch using multiple different platforms. Once they are set up on Symba, they can easily bring on new participants and seamlessly scale their programs. On Symba companies can also create multiple programs, so they’re not only opening their doors to more participants but they’re also scaling to provide apprenticeships, co-ops and other talent development programs.” 

Accessibility can be built into our work culture as part of hiring, onboarding, training, and employee development. Technology can be the bridge between employers seeking candidates and job seekers with disabilities – especially when it comes to internships and remote work. I appreciate Ahva and Paula sharing their experience with us!

Connect with Ahva Sadeghi and Paula Mora.


Ahva Sadeghi on LinkedIn and Twitter

Paula Mora on LinkedIn

Telework Accessibility and the Law

– Symba.io

Symba on LinkedIn and Twitter

– PEATWorks

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

– Episode 277: How Apprenticeships Support Diversity & Inclusion

– Episode 271: How Apprenticeships Help People with Disabilities Find Work

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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