Key Steps for Boosting Diversity Hiring of Interns

June 13, 2022 | By Kevin Gray

A group of interns works together on a project.

TAGS: best practices, Internships, nace insights, trends and predictions,

There were gender and race disparities within the compositions of the 2020-21 intern cohort as the majority of students who take part in internships are men and identify as white, according to results of NACE’s 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey.

The survey found that while white males continue to be overrepresented, there has been some progress when comparing recent cohorts. In particular, there were 3.4% more Black interns taking part in 2020-21 than in 2019-20. However, many historically marginalized groups—notably female, Black, and Hispanic students—remain underrepresented relative to their distribution in the overall student population.

Although women and students of color are underrepresented in internship cohorts, when they are provided internship opportunities, they are more likely to receive full-time job offers. This supports the idea that internships can democratize access to first jobs post-college, particularly for historically marginalized groups.

Employers have reported that enhancing DEI at their respective organizations is a critical goal for them. For example, in studies conducted by NACE, 88% of employers indicated they have a diversity recruiting program, and 67% allocated more funds to recruit for diversity as a result of the racial reckoning sparked during the summer of 2020.

Clearly, improving the diversity of their workforce is a primary goal for employers. However, only 41.4% of respondents to NACE’s 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey felt their recruiting was effective in achieving a diverse cohort of interns. The following recommendations offer actionable insights based on the findings of NACE research:

  • Cast a wider net—In terms of school selection, employers should examine the demographics associated with the students at the schools at which they typically recruit and expand beyond that list as needed. Employers also can incorporate virtual recruiting options to reach schools that are not feasible to visit in person.
  • Conduct an equity audit of the internship cohort—An equity audit will help employers determine if they are indeed recruiting a sufficiently diverse internship cohort, bringing to light discrepancies in the composition of the cohort, pay rates, and possibly even the tasks and responsibilities given to interns.
  • Use the internship program as a diversified pipeline to a diverse workforce—As employers make efforts to diversify their workforce, their internship programs should be the starting point for this diversification. Ensuring a diverse group of interns will aid in diversifying newly hired employees.
  • Build on positive offer rates and conversions—Employers are doing well in terms of making offers to and converting female, Black, and Hispanic-American interns into full-time employees, exceeding the rates posted for male interns and those who identify as white. To keep this momentum going and achieve the level of diversity needed to reflect the diversity of the general American population, employers should continue to focus on converting interns from historically marginalized groups, while striving for equitable representation within their internship cohort.
  • Provide relocation assistance to interns—Providing relocation assistance to interns can be a powerful way of helping to diversify employers’ internship cohorts. Just as virtual recruiting and virtual internships show promise for diversifying internship cohorts and the general workforce, providing relocation assistance helps break down geographic barriers that block access to students seeking an internship.

NACE’s 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey Report provides projections for internship and co-op programs for the 2021-22 academic year, but the bulk of the information presented here represent data gathered from 2020-21 internship and co-op programs. Historical data are also provided to indicate trends. Data collection took place from November 10, 2021, to January 12, 2022. There were 183 NACE member respondents representing 22.4% of eligible member respondents. The Internship & Co-op Survey was also distributed to nonmember companies from which an additional 26 responses were received. The 2022 Internship & Co-op Survey Report is available to participants on MyNACE. Those who did not participate can access the Executive Summary and find out how to purchase the report in the NACE Store.