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5 ways for improving the diversity of your internship program

Posted October 26, 2020 by

It may come as a surprise to some that there is no truth that most employees are not employed by small businesses. As a small business owner, I wish that were true but it just isn’t. In fact, most employees, including college students are employed by medium and large employers.

Fortunately, since the spring, almost every large employer has examined their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices; found areas for improvement; and have either already implemented those improvements or are well on their way to doing so. The result will be internship and other hiring programs which promote DEI instead of merely complying with laws, policies, or social norms. If you’re running an internship program, you’re under pressure to hire more diverse students not just because it is legally required or the right thing to do for the candidates, but because it makes business sense. After all, study after study demonstrate that the more diverse a workforce is, the more productive that workforce is.

But, let’s be honest. It is one thing to want your internship program to be diverse. It is another thing to believe that improving the diversity of your internship program will improve your organization’s bottom line. And it is another thing altogether to successfully hire more diverse students for your internship program. So, how do you do that? Here are five ideas:

  1. Use data to measure how many diverse interns you hire per year AND how many you hire from each source. By looking at the number of diverse students you hire by source for your internship program, you’ll quickly be able to determine which of your sources are best helping you reach your business objectives. Maybe one of your sources is responsible for a quarter of your interns by only five percent of your diverse interns. In that case, you’re going to want to work with them to improve those numbers or, if they can’t or won’t, reduce your reliance on them or even eliminate them from your efforts.
  2. Diversify your sourcing strategies and tactics. It sounds so obvious and yet it isn’t to most. Diversity is all about different ways of looking at the same issues, yet if you’re recruiting all of your interns from the same 20 schools year-after-year, how diverse can they be? Wouldn’t it make sense to open up your efforts by making it easier for students from dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of schools to apply online to your internship opportunities? Targeted email and job posting campaigns are two of the most efficient and effective ways of doing that.
  3. Mentor diverse students while they’re still in high school or are college freshmen and sophomores. If you do a good enough job of planting seeds today, you’ll eat like a king tomorrow. To use another cliche, if you want a bigger slice of the pie, you can either battle another by fighting over who gets more or you can make the pie bigger, which allows everyone to win.
  4. Promote your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to your current employees and on your careers website to external stakeholders, including potential employees. Be specific about where you’ve come from (including practices that needed to be changed), where you are, and where you’re going. Your commitment to change will send a powerful message both inside and outside of your organization.
  5. Stop recruiting from the same candidate pool as everyone else. We tell candidates all the time that 90 percent of job openings are not advertised and yet 90 percent of candidates only apply to jobs which are advertised. Wouldn’t it be better to be one of the 10 percent of candidates who is applying to the 90 percent of jobs that hardly anyone else is? The same applies, in reverse, to sourcing candidates. Rather than going on-campus to the top HBCU schools to recruit black engineering students for your internship program, remember that many, many black engineering students do not attend HBCU schools. Go where the candidates are, not where all of your competition is.

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