Byline: By Nicole Hudson
Summer internships can be stepping stones to future careers, informative educational experiences, networking opportunities, and drive personal and professional growth. Internships are about more than the tangible benefits of on-the-job experience, they allow potential employees to learn about corporate culture and practices.
According to Raven Solomon, a noted global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion thought leader and nationally recognized keynote speaker, “Gen Z interns are increasingly seeking out internships at companies that do more than talk about diversity and racial inclusion. Meaningful action resonates with them, both as potential employees and as consumers.” A 2020 study by the Center for Generational Kinetics finds that 51% of Gen Z say that they respect a company more if they support racial equality. Additionally, Gen Z is willing to spend more on the same item when the company or brand supports a social cause important to them. These same behaviors also apply when they are considering internships.
Gen Z interns are generally more informed than previous generations, they get their news from nontraditional sources like YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok. They scour corporate websites to learn more about the C-level executives and management diversity, they look for Chief Diversity Officers, read through corporate social media feeds to get a better picture of who a company is before applying for internships. Who a company is and what they stand for matters as much as any hard skills acquired on the job.
Internships may also serve as a pipeline for future, more diverse leadership at all levels of an organization. Leading with equity is about recognizing the needs of a diverse group of employees, of varying races, religions, genders, age groups, and life experiences. Organizations like the Center for Creative Leadership help existing leadership build diverse teams, refine practices and shift behaviors to move the concepts of diversity and inclusion into action. By doing so, companies can attract top internship candidates, helping everyone at the organization reach their full potential. Studies have shown that diverse teams are more resilient, more innovative, more able to embrace change. Developing and retaining high-potential employees, including interns is one of the best ways to prepare a company for the future.
How can an organization identify, attract and retain those high-potential interns? Take a hard look at how the organization looks to current employees as well as potential interns looking in from the outside. Are there coaching, mentoring, and training courses available at every level? How accessible is management? How are new leaders identified and developed? Leading from the top-down has a unique set of demands and requires different skills than a team leader or middle manager. Potential interns look for C-level executives who have embraced change, diversity, and inclusion and implement best practices at every level. What role does the company play in the wider community? Gen Z has identified diversity, racial inclusion, and social justice as factors that impact much of their decision-making process.
For example, TD Bank touts their summer internship program as one that provides “a supportive environment that allows you to learn, grow and develop.” Their website goes on to highlight not only the expected Commercial and Consumer Banking, Risk Management, and Finance hard skills opportunities, but also mentions community service projects, and networking opportunities, and interactions with senior leaders.
TD Bank has committed to diversity, with a mission that supports and celebrates diversity as it applies to both employees and staff, from promoting and enhancing an inclusive environment for LGBTA customers, clients, and employees to the goal of serving diverse communities. Named Diversity Inc’s prestigious Top 50 Companies for Diversity for three years in a row, recognized as one of The Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality in the United States by the Human Rights Campaign since 2010, named by Careers and the disABLED Magazine as the recipient of their 2012 Employee of the Year award and employer of some of the Top 25 Women to Watch and Most Powerful Women in Banking from 2010 to 2014 by American Banker Magazine, TD Bank is putting their promises in action. It’s impactful efforts like these that attract the Gen Z interns who will become the leaders of tomorrow.
The retail industry has fully embraced diversity and inclusion too, in hopes of attracting and retaining interns and future leaders. Home improvement giant Lowes offers a 10-week summer program that includes professional development training, mentorships, volunteer events in the community, and an Executive Speaker Series with five Executive Leaders including a Q&A with CEO, Marvin Ellison.
Their dedication to social issues goes beyond diversity and inclusion; environmental issues form an important part of their corporate mission. Lowe’s commitment to corporate responsibility includes conscientious sourcing of materials, more eco-friendly product offerings, support of local communities, ethical and responsible operations, and building and maintaining a diverse, skilled, and engaged workforce. At Lowes, these are more than empty words. In 2019, 33% of their board seats were occupied by women and 33% by minority members. Beyond inclusion and diversity, Lowes places a heavy emphasis on environmental issues, from a 100MW wind farm to saving customers $5.3 billion in 2019 through the sales of ENERGY STAR® products. And Lowes is very visible in the communities they serve, with an investment of over 330,000 volunteer hours in 2019 alone.
Summer internships are more than on-the-job experience, a foot in the door at a potential employer, or an investment in your future. They are a mark of credibility, ability, and eligibility. They help add skills to a resume and build networking relationships and friendships that may last a lifetime. And now, more than ever before, internships allow students to apply their social values in a meaningful and fulfilling way that can help make work more than a job.