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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

5 Strategies for Creating a More Diverse Internship Program

diverse team

In this day and age, it’s safe to say that most companies place a high value on building a diverse and inclusive team. But, there’s one area where they’re consistently falling short: internship programs.

In a recent InternMatch survey of over 300 companies, just 30% reported that their intern programs are as diverse as they’d like—and this is especially true when it comes to race and ethnicity. With over 60% of interns being offered full-time jobs and with young hires acting as critical drivers for internal culture change, this is a major issue that should be at the top of every hiring manager’s mind.

The challenges university recruiting teams face are both systemic (it’s hard to hire minority students when they self-select out of many fields before they reach the internship age) as well as policy-driven (campus recruiting often emphasizes recruiting at top schools rather than developing reach across campuses nationally). But despite those barriers, there are strategies your university recruiting team can use to hire more diverse students and make significant progress to changing the future DNA of your company.

1. Get Data Driven

Tracking data is important in every HR function, but it’s even more critical when it comes to diversity. Yes, most employers are required to submit annual audits reviewing their diversity and EEO initiatives—but what this means is that companies get complacent with strategies that satisfy their audits instead of looking at what drives real results.

So, your team should not only track the number of diverse interns you hire year-over-year, it should track the number of diverse candidates you hire per source each year. As the ERE reports, oftentimes conferences and diversity events are actually ineffective for making direct hires; so you may be surprised by what’s working (and what’s not). But once you have that data, you can see what’s worth doubling down on. And once you’re confident in what works, you can try new hiring initiatives without the fear of failing an audit.

2. Expand Your Reach

A lot of companies try to solve diversity by sending reps to the same career fairs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities every year. While schools like Howard and Spelman certainly are great places to reach a large number of talented and diverse candidates, the idea that you can become more diverse by going to just a few schools is often wrong. For example, at Spelman College, 30% of students come from Georgia and only 1% are international, so these hires are going to have relatively similar backgrounds compared to hiring diverse students from a variety of schools and locations.

Instead, we recommend engaging with organizations that have a national reach, like the College Success FoundationSMASH, and the hundreds of others out there who work with talented minorities. You can also partner with clubs, fraternities, and sororities that are historically diverse as another pathway for finding diverse candidates at a national level.

3. Create Mentorship Programs for Young Students

Diversity hiring is a catch-22. Most employers want to hire diverse students because their perspectives are underrepresented in a company and industry. But, it is hard to get students to join a field when they have few role models to look up to—the “you can’t be what you can’t see” syndrome. This is part of the reason why, in some fields, minority students have traditionally self-selected out before they get to college. While this occurs in many fields, one notable example is in STEM, where just 15% of all AP Physics and Calculus test takers are African-American or Latino.

While it may not satisfy your immediate hiring needs, investing time and money into helping diverse students at the high school and even middle school levels will help them develop those role models and encourage them to continue on in the field. (Google, for example, has extensive diversity initiatives focused on K-12 students.) This is an amazing way to not only build a stronger brand for your company, but to help lift your entire industry.

4. Share Your Diversity Hiring Initiatives 

While it’s easy to put a multi-racial picture on the careers page of your website, it’s much harder to back this up with a culture and policies that promote inclusion. But, nothing comes across as more hollow than a company that says it supports diversity but isn’t actually doing anything proactive to encourage it.

A great example of a more nuanced diversity message comes from Viacom, owners of MTV. In an interview with Suzanne Rosenthal, VP of Global Inclusion at Viacom, Suzanne talks about Viacom’s concept of “Bringing Your Whole Self to Work.” This concept includes actual policies, like creating an interview process that screens for tolerance and a dress code that allows for religious and cultural self-expression, all of which gives candidates a clear sense of what Viacom is striving to create as a workplace.

Even if you’re struggling with diversity in hiring, don’t be afraid to share your policies and your goals in a clear message on your career site. Being open and honest is critical for building trust and support from college students and other candidates.

5. Think Outside Traditional Recruiting

If you’ve tried most of the above and still aren’t meeting your goals, why not think outside traditional recruiting? A fantastic example of this comes from Silicon Valley e-commerce site Etsy, whose diversity challenge was built around hiring more female engineers.

In 2011, Etsy made a commitment to grow its number of female engineers. At first, the company tried to tackle this goal mainly through its recruiting and HR teams. Management told recruiters to search twice as hard for female engineers, and highlighted this new push in blog posts, interviews, and more. But despite these efforts, just one of Etsy’s 40 engineering hires in 2011 was a woman.

Going back to the drawing board in 2012, Etsy tried something new. Rather than investing more dollars into recruiting, it began offering grants and public engineering courses to women. It also began developing internal resources to empower the women who already worked at Etsy to be able to grow and succeed in the ways they wanted. By the end of 2012, Etsy had grown its number of female engineers by 500%.

The lesson? By looking outside traditional recruiting methods, Etsy was rewarded with positive press, referrals, a more woman-friendly image, and results that far exceeded their expectations.

In the end, building diversity is about creating an authentic and inclusive culture. If your company can commit to creating change from the top down, then your internship program is a fantastic way to build this change from the bottom up.