by Marie Y. Philippe, PhD

Chief Diversity Officer, Corporate Vice President
The Lifetime Healthcare Companies

Many still use the term “diversity internship” or “minority internship” when referring to the programs targeting high talent from underrepresented ethnic groups at colleges or universities. The intent of most programs is to provide the promising student an unforgettable corporate experience that will make that organization the employer of choice. Not all internship programs can be best in class. So what does make a world-class internship program?

“There is no debate that internships serve as an effective pipeline for future diverse entry-level hires.”

There is no debate that internships serve as an effective pipeline for future diverse entry-level hires. However in great numbers, interns indicate that their best internships are those that create a microcosm of the real world. Interacting primarily with other interns from ethnic minorities or predominantly from the same gender, although meeting the needs of the organization, does not provide them a meaningful experience, even when the projects drive good learning opportunities. Perhaps this suggests a shift from “diversity/minority” internship to “inclusive” internship.

A real world experience requires a population of interns from diverse dimensions: ethnic, religious, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identification to name a few. That diversity aspect creates the basic qualifications.

Further there are a few characteristics of an internship that are a must for a superior grade:

  1. Matching an intern with a department where the work ignites his/her drive to learn and explore. Taking the time upfront to screen interns for a great project or department “fit” is critical for a world-class experience.
  2. Pairing the intern with an experienced coach or mentor who inspires, empowers and facilitates the cultural navigation. Relational encounters instill instant ease and trust, as sense of belonging in the firm is established.
  3. Planning projects that provide a jolting learning opportunity to the interns. A degree of challenge in the work must stretch the intern’s mind beyond simplified book knowledge application.
  4. Inserting in the work the ability to problem-solve or utilize creative alternatives. Allowing interns to explore how their brain works when facing complex, real-world issues in the safe environment of an internship can be the greatest corporate gift.
  5. Building skills for life into the internship program. Adding to the internship curriculum formal learning sessions on public speaking, interviewing skills for self-marketing, enhancing multi-cultural competence, and self- awareness are paramount in the long run.
  6. Offering competitive pay and non-monetary rewards. Competitive compensation does not necessarily imply same dollar level. A trophy that can be used as a display of pride at one’s first job can be of greater value than an extra $20 per week.
  7. Allowing returning interns to mentor newer ones. For many interns, being able to serve as a mentor to others is priceless. Returning interns have their first taste at leading others through influence.
  8. Creating an opportunity for interns to provide anonymous and open feedback. Internship programs can only improve through honest criticism. For most valuable answers, try asking open-ended questions and make name-sharing voluntary.
  9. Fighting the stereotype of interns being “young and under 40.” Enhance the experience of generational diversity by seeking workforce re-entry talent such as retirees retooling and updating their skill offerings.
  10. Ensuring senior leaders’ interaction with the interns. Not only do these interactions make lifetime memories for many interns, the experience alone serves as a catapult for the internship quality. The exchange can be fascinating for both parties.

We all pursue the talent elite in whatever human package that talent comes. By investing the time to imbed the characteristics above in your inclusive internship program, you can rest assured that potential interns will be following your website in the hope of their first or next job opportunity.

This article has been sponsored by:
WellPoint, Inc.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Corporate Vice President, Culture and Organizational Effectiveness
The Lifetime Healthcare Companies

Well known for her leadership contribution in corporate culture transformation through strategic diversity initiatives and organizational change management. She can be reached at [email protected].