“You need experience.”
Many young communication professionals have heard these three words. It’s true. Entry level positions and even some internships require past experience to be considered. There is nothing wrong with requiring previous skill, but finances and other factors may exclude diverse talent from having relevant experience on their resume.
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia are the prime communications markets in the U.S., according to the 2020 Nielsen DMA Rankings. Agencies such as Edelman, Weber Shandwick, BCW and FleishmanHillard, which are in these markets, are known for internships that can open doors to anyone who participates. However, the high cost of living in popular cities only allows a select few to take advantage of the opportunities. Those with higher socioeconomic status can travel outside of their home city or state to work for big-name agencies. Of course, social and economic mobility is not equal across all groups. According to the Pew Research Center, “the income of households headed by Blacks has presently lagged behind that of white households.” In 2014, the median household income for Blacks and Latinos was $43,300, while the median household income for whites was $71,300. In other words, diverse talent may not have the means to uproot and move to a large, expensive metropolitan area to grasp opportunities.
Suzie Bishop, Senior Media Manager at ITV, is a prime example of how internships ostracize diversity. In her LinkedIn post, Bishop notes that she was offered three marketing internships in London while attending the University of Manchester, but she did not accept any position.
“After much fretting and penny-counting,” she wrote, “my family and I figured out there simply wasn’t a way my parents could afford to send me to work unpaid in the city for three months on their wages.”
While not all internships are unpaid, there are still upfront costs many cannot afford.
The ideas discussed above reflect on agencies. For example, Weber Shandwick recently released data on the diversity of its employees. Weber’s EVPs are 88.9 percent white, 2.5 percent Black, 1.2 percent Latinx and 6.2 percent Asian. Weber’s U.S. SVPs/VPs are 84.7 percent white, 4.1 percent Black and 5.4 percent Latinx. The general staff is 75 percent white, 5.6 percent Black, 7 percent Latinx and 9.2 percent Asian.
Agencies and organizations can make huge strides by increasing diversity within their interns. A simple way of doing this is by continuing remote internships after the workforce returns to the office. Currently many communications professionals are working from home due to COVID-19, and if organizations are hiring interns, those positions are also remote. Virtual internships allow for more individuals of low socioeconomic status to gain valuable experience they would otherwise never get. Students can work from their current location and not have to stress about moving to a new city and all the associated expenses. In the long run, this effort will increase diversity beyond entry-level positions.
Opposers of virtual internships argue productivity will fall since interns will not be in an office environment that fosters a great work ethic. While this may be true to some extent, one has to take a more in-depth look into the productivity J-curve. At first, productivity falls when a change is enacted, such as working from home. During this time, employees adjust to the alteration, so naturally, efficiency will decrease. Still, as soon as workers adapt to the changes, productivity surpasses the performance before the change. Therefore, remote internships would not only increase diversity within the industry but increase productivity as well.
Experience is vital in the industry, but the equal distribution of experience among different ethnic groups is arguably more important. If organizations want a diverse future, they have to focus on increasing diversity within their internship positions, but conventional internships will not allow this. The continuation of remote internships after COVID-19 is one simple tactic employers can utilize to foster diversity and equity in the industry.
Mauricio Lira is a senior and founding treasurer of Texas Tech University PRSSA. Mauricio is majoring in Public Relations with a minor Spanish. Currently, he is part of the 4A’s Multicultural Agency Internship Program and Digital Engagement Intern at Texas Tech University.