Young person works at desk by themselves.

Including Interns

Author: Rabia Chawla

The title ‘intern’ can bear various connotations in work environments across sectors. From the most junior employee in the office, to a personal assistant or a volunteer – interns usually enter a workplace expecting exclusion and anticipating authority. 

What’s it like being an intern?

Often, for interns, a 4- or 8-month internship is their primary exposure to a workplace they aspire to work at in the future. Students, from various countries and with diverse backgrounds undergo tedious processes to compete in the job market to avail these opportunities, and sometimes without pay. This helps them get a more well-rounded education, develop essential skills and become invested in companies of interest. As someone in a co-op program who participates in the job-hunt process every 4 months, I know from experience that, feeling a sense of inclusion at your workplace can enhance one’s placements. 

Learnings from surveys measuring the inclusion of students in workplaces. 

A survey conducted asking both employers and students their opinions on students’ inclusivity in the workplace during internships. The information gathered from students revealed that 33% of students struggled with feeling included in their workplaces during their internships. Additionally, 30% agreed that they were treated differently at their workplaces by virtue of being a student and  40% of them believe that their company did not organize any events in the workplace to talk about DEI. Feedback collected through the survey surrounding how employers can be more inclusive of interns offers actionable items. Suggestions include facilitating more social opportunities for students to engage with colleagues and conversations around diversity and inclusion. Some students felt they would also benefit from having more people of color as their mentors in workplaces. 

Managers and employers believe they were very well engaged with their student hires and made an effort to include them. 100% of the employers taking the survey believed that there had been no major DEI concerns with the students in their workplaces. While feedback from some managers spoke to  appreciating their student hires more and keeping them up to date with training, most of the data suggests that there is a discrepancy in student’s and employer’s perceptions of intern inclusivity in the workplace. 

Why are Interns a good measure of a lucrative work culture? 

The way a company treats its interns can say a lot about their values,workplace culture, and the importance given to DEI. Including interns should be  good practice that stems from good workplace culture. A successful company culture depends on its core values which in turn depend largely on the treatment and satisfaction of employees, including interns. Often having direct and open discussions with interns about feelings of inclusion, where they see room for their own professional growth, and how they would like to receive feedback can be a good step in the direction of improving company culture. When an intern feels like a part of the team and is invested in the work-environment, they demonstrate better performance and contribute positively to company culture. 

Suggestions for employers to practice inclusion of interns/co-op students: 

1. Assign an intern program coordinator/mentor:  Providing a mentor to your intern(s) is a great way for ensuring they receive both feedback and guidance from someone who is embedded in the company. A mentor can be separate from their supervisor or employer and can be a full-time employee giving the student useful insight about the functions and facets of the company. 

2. Make intern development and participation a commitment: include interns in meaningful projects and co-create strategies to help employees feel involved and welcome. Practices like this should become common to ensure their effectiveness and can help bridge the gap between employees and students. 

3. Keeping in touch/offer feedback: Feedback is a great way for interns to gauge their performance, develop strategies for self-improvement, and build professional relationships. This serves as a proactive networking tool that  equips them for the professional world. 

4. Tell team members to take initiative: Workplaces of professionals can be daunting for new interns and present barriers to effective team building. If an intern is seen as feeling uncomfortable or hesitant, initiative should be encouraged by staff to break these barriers.  The onus of building these relations is not just on the intern, as fostering such a professional relationship can be an effective effort to recruit new graduates. 

5. Treat interns like employees: One of interns’ biggest challenges is fitting in to workplace culture and to do so, it is important to assign them more than just menial tasks. It is important to value your interns in order to attract students to work for you once they graduate. A company should attempt to show students an accurate reflection of what the work environment will be like in the future.

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