Why Building Diversity Into Your Intern Program Matters

Creating a diverse and inclusive work place is one of the most critical and challenging issues faced by HR professionals today.  Most large Fortune 500 companies (for example Microsoft and Ernst and Young) have extensive diversity messages on their websites and dedicate tremendous time and effort to building a diverse team that more closely reflects the makeup of he world. Building the proper foundations for diversity within your team is crucial, regardless of whether your company is a Fortune 500 company or a small firm. One of the best ways to bring about real change inside your business is to launch a college diversity campaign that aims to diversify your organization from the ground up.

Every Industry Has Unique Diversity Challenges that Often Begin Before a Candidate Reaches Your Doors

 Different industries struggle with diversity in different ways.  For example in technology a huge problem exists around the number of minority students who study Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  In fact, the Level Playing Field reports that African-American and Latino students combined represent only 15% of all AP test takers in Physics and Calculus.  This is a shockingly low number and amplifies the difficulty faced by any employer looking to hire minority STEM candidates for any position within their organization.

In the accounting field a similar issue exists.  Diversity Inc, reports that at CPA firms in 2010, only 3% of professional hires were African-American and only 1% of partners were African-American.  Many students of color have a hard time envisioning the pathways to success in accounting, given how few individuals that look like them are currently holding high-level positions.

Simply put, from a systemic level, companies interested in boosting their diversity initiatives need to start thinking younger and helping students understand how they can succeed in their field.  While some larger companies can begin investing at the high school or grade school levels, your company should at the very least be thinking about these topics within your intern and new grad programs.

Diverse College Programs lead to Diverse Companies.

Intern programs offer some unique advantages to bringing long-term diversity changes to your company.

  1. For many companies an internship program dictates the future DNA of their work force.  Internships have now become the number one way in which companies make entry-level hires, with around 70% of students being offered internships.  Hiring diverse interns and diverse new grads is one of the most effective ways to create a sustained shift towards a more diverse workforce.
  2. For students an internship is the first exposure to a particular industry or field.  By neglecting to make diversity an integral part of your intern hiring process, it increases the likelihood that students not traditionally represented in your field will ever develop the skills, interest and footing to succeed.
  3. Students and your youngest hires will ultimately be the biggest drivers of change within your organization.  They come in without deep knowledge of how an industry should or shouldn’t work.  They bring the youthful energy needed to disrupt norms.  By making diverse hires at the intern level, supporting these employees throughout their career, and empowering them to make an impact on your organization–significant internal change can be accomplished.

A Hangout on Diversity and Intern Programs

If you are interested in this issue please join us for the first ever internship hangout on diversity.  It is a free event with speakers from Facebook, Viacom, Geico and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as student speakers from leading diversity organizations including SMASH Academy, Rainier Scholars and more.  The event will look at what diversity means for these companies’ college programs and how they are working towards creating more open and inclusive industries for students in general.

Ultimately, tackling diversity at your organization is a difficult challenge.  There are large systemic factors at play, cultural and labor market barriers, and much more.  College and universities remain one of the best areas to bring positive change into your company.

I’m curious to hear from employers.  Does your company have a diversity initiative built into your internship program?

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Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch.com, a leading website to help students find amazing internships and help companies find amazing interns. Nathan is an expert on how companies can engage and retain university talent. Nathan loves speaking with HR experts, recruiters, and students about trends and challenges in college hiring, feel free to reach him at Nathan@internmatch.com, on twitter @internmatch.


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