Interns assemble! 🙅♀️
The inequities of internships – and how to do it right.
Just as you can get a sense of a country’s culture (and economy) by looking at how it treats women, you can probably uncover a company’s culture by looking at how it treats its interns.
In a thriving, healthy organization, interns can bring fresh perspectives, boost productivity, and help current employees improve their leadership skills.
Interns are especially great if they’re Robert De Niro:
But, of course, there’s a dark side to internships.
To Pay or Not to Pay?: The (Very Obvious) Inequities of the Unpaid Internship
While more and more countries are trying to make paid internships required by law, unpaid internships remain common around the world, including in South Africa, Singapore, and the US – where 43% of internships are unpaid.
If your company does not pay its interns, it might as well be shouting from the rooftops, “We don’t care about diversity, equity, inclusion, or treating people fairly!”
Not only are unpaid internships exploitative and downright unethical, but they perpetuate a cycle of what European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly called “privilege following privilege.” She says:
When internships are unpaid, there is an injustice in the system, as young people must then find the means of working for free while paying for rent, transport, food, along with the myriad other costs of living in any society.
Unpaid traineeships also mean that employers are not necessarily attracting the best candidates, but simply those with sufficient financial resources.
Essentially, unpaid internships are the opposite of equal opportunity.
One Solution: The Micro-Internship
To bridge the opportunity gap for students from underrepresented communities, Joshua Kahn, Assistant Director of Research and Public Policy at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in Pennsylvania, proposes micro-internships.
A micro-internship is a short-term, paid(!) project for university students. While it has the same goal as a traditional internship (gaining experience, learning new skills, building connections), a micro-internship is more specialized, allowing students to learn quickly on the job and take advantage of more opportunities.
HBR Associate Editor Rakshitha Arni Ravishankar explains:
Companies who hire interns for these specific two-week projects are automatically offering very specialized opportunities. Interns are less likely to be tasked with grunt work like fetching coffee or printing copies. Instead, many of these experiences focus on teaching interns the soft skills required to complete a project, like pitching ideas, meeting deadlines, asking for feedback, and clearly communicating with their team members.
Diversity Starts at the… Bottom?: Hiring Diverse Interns
Needless to say, any diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) strategy should include interns.
We talk a lot about how “diversity starts at the top,” but there’s something to be said for building diversity from the ground up. Diverse interns and entry-level workers can bring unique perspectives to your business and industry and raise your company’s cultural awareness.
For Esther Odejimi-Uzokwe, Special Advisor & Advisory Board Member at 10000BlackInterns (10KBI):
Increasing diversity in leadership at financial institutions starts with entry-level workers.
10KBI is a UK-based initiative that set out to convince 100 UK investment firms to hire Black interns. Since its inception, over 750 companies from 24 different sectors have signed up, pledging more than 2,000 internships in 2022.
Here are a few ways your company can provide equal opportunities and hire diverse interns:
🗓 Engage with students early through (virtual) career events, fellowship programs, or by offering job shadowing opportunities.
🎓 Hire from a wide range of schools, not just the most prestigious ones.
🤸♂️ Design a flexible internship program with flexible working hours.
💰 Pay your interns! See section above if you need to be reminded why.
I’ve written plenty about hiring for diversity, equity & inclusion in general. Here’s one about hiring for culture
fit add and how to de-bias your recruiting:
Intern Accepted: How to Promote Inclusion with Your Interns
In my experience, most companies infantilize interns, treating them as unimportant, un-developed humans (regardless of whether they’re getting paid or not).
But, in many cases, interns become paid employees, so it’s crucial to treat them as such. In the US alone, 56% of interns get a full-time job from internships. Ultimately, there needs to be a shift in the way we view interns. As The Talent Revolution podcast put it:
The key is to consider the internship an investment in your long-term recruitment strategy, not as free (or even cheap) labor.
As a former-intern-turned-manager-of-interns (I’m moving up in the world!), here are my suggestions on how to build an inclusive environment for your interns:
Encourage participation. Make sure interns feel seen and heard by encouraging and role-modeling open communication. Schedule time to let your interns get to know you and their teammates on a personal level.
Build a development plan for –and with – your intern(s). Even with my limited experience managing interns, I found it super valuable to help them build a development and/or career plan and set learning goals during their internship.
Start a reverse mentorship program. Reverse mentorship is when a junior employee mentors a more senior employee or leader. Many companies have experienced positive results with their reverse mentorship programs, such as increasing inclusion & diversity, as well as skill- and knowledge-sharing. At some companies, reverse mentoring has also increased retention among younger staff members.
Set and monitor goals. How many of your interns are attending team events? How many are participating? This will give you a sense of how engaged – and ultimately, included – your interns feel.
Take It Away 💃
Unpaid internships are unfair, as they provide opportunities to those who can afford not to be paid for their hard work. Paid internships, on the other hand, are not only fair and ethical, but they can also increase diversity, equity & inclusion within your company.
Building diversity from the bottom-up can bring unique, much-needed perspectives to your business and industry and raise your company’s cultural awareness.
Since internships often turn into full-time employment, it’s important to consider internships as an investment and not as free or cheap labor.
Treat and include the interns within your company just as you would a “regular” employee. Do this by encouraging open communication, co-creating a development plan, reverse mentoring, and setting concrete goals.
DEI Win of the Week 🫁
This week’s DEI win goes to this new 3D female anatomy model, currently being used by first-year medical students at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
Thoroughly investigated in her book “Invisible Women,” author Caroline Criado Perez describes the “gender data gap” in which the world is designed for the “default” man – including global healthcare systems where women are “chronically misunderstood, mistreated, and misdiagnosed.” In an interview with Vox, Perez said:
It’s always been this way. And it comes from the fact that the male body has always been taken as the standard human being. The female body is seen as the atypical body. You see that going all the way back to Aristotle – he refers to the female body as a mutilated male body – and you see it in textbooks today, where the male anatomy is presented as the anatomy.
As the most detailed female anatomy ever produced, the new female anatomy model will provide a better understanding of the female anatomy and help prevent women from being misdiagnosed.
This is an awesome step in the right direction. Congratulations, women! 😍
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