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How to Build Your Most Diverse Internship Class Yet

Building a diverse workplace can start with having a diverse internship class that you can convert into regular, full-time employees. However, that's a lot easier said than done. Despite good intentions, many organizations simply have not been able to make their internship programs as diverse as they would like. This can really stall a diversity recruitment plan that focuses on early talent hiring—especially considering that there’s a 60 percent chance of interns going on to becoming full-time employees.

However, there are things organizations can do to combat a lack of diversity in internship programs. The following are tips on how to build your most diverse internship class yet, which will go a long way toward increasing the representation of underserved communities at your company.

1. Start With High Schools

Although a company may not be hiring high schoolers as interns, it's never too early to get on students’ radar, so when the time comes, they'll consider the organization for internships and full-time jobs later. Speaking to high school students allows you to start a relationship early, and as they go off to college, you can build on this connection. Stay on their radar by adding them to your mailing list. Keep students engaged by sending tips to help them throughout their college years, and providing information about your industry and company. Develop scholarship programs for students from underserved communities. By the time they’re looking for an internship, your organization has already formed a strong rapport with students that will make them more likely to apply for positions.

2. Do Something Different 

If the same old, same old recruiting strategies just aren’t working, brainstorm ways to try something new. If you've been relying on Ivy League schools to find interns, consider branching out to schools that aren't considered as prestigious, but still have the talent your company can benefit from. If you're not getting enough applicants to build a diverse internship class through face-to-face events, it may be time to participate in virtual events to expand your reach. Whatever the strategy is that’s not working, look at how you can tweak it to get results.

3. Partner With MSIs

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are colleges and universities designed to cater to the needs of students from minority populations. MSIs operate around the country and enroll millions of Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American students who may not have been able to access higher education otherwise. Partnering with these institutions is well worth your time because it will connect you to students from the diverse communities you want to attract.

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4. Build a Pipeline Through Referrals

If you don't have a referral program in your organization, this could be a great way to help create diversity in your internship program. Your employees may have college-aged family members, friends of family, and neighbors who would be good interns for your business. Encourage workers to make these referrals in order to help build your pipeline. You may also ask for recommendations from past and current interns who can vouch for your employer brand among their peers.

5. Create Mentorship Programs 

Although there’s no doubt that internships are a win-win for students and employers, if you want to increase diversity in your internship class, it's a good idea to give students a pathway for success at your organization. Providing mentorship opportunities can enhance your internship program because students from underserved communities can develop invaluable relationships with role models—especially when they share the same communities and backgrounds.

6. Pay Interns 

In many cases, students from underrepresented groups aren’t able to participate in internships because they simply cannot afford to work for free. To attract these students, your company should consider paying interns so there isn't a monetary disincentive precluding them from interning at your organization. 

7. Create Effective Messaging

Even when looking for interns, your employer brand should communicate to everyone that your company values diversity, equity, and inclusion. This will help the college students you want to hire feel more comfortable with the idea of interning at your organization because you've made a concerted effort to build an inclusive workplace for them.

Building a diverse internship class isn’t necessarily easy, but your organization will reap numerous rewards when you do. Not only will this affect your internship class, it will increase the likelihood that your full-time staff’s diversity gets a boost. With these tips, you can make a diverse internship program that keeps great talent in your pipeline for years to come.

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