It’s no exaggeration to say that businesses shape the world around them, be they large multinationals or small independents. So when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion–topics that many of us have been thinking a lot more about recently–it’s arguably businesses, more than any other institution, that can have the greatest social impact.
But while business leaders are aware of the benefits that a diverse workforce brings, from greater levels of innovation to better decision making, crafting and implementing policies that help support this aim is often easier said than done.
What many business leaders may not realize, however, is that there is already an initiative that can have a substantial positive impact on diversity and inclusion, and which requires little-to-no-setup: remote internships.
This form of internship participation has boomed since the onset of the pandemic and early signs suggest it’s here to stay, in one form or another, in the post-COVID world. By removing the barrier of physical presence and the costs associated with this, remote internships offer aspiring young professionals the opportunity to dive into their dream careers, regardless of their geographical or socio-economic position. And if conducted well, these internships can set better hiring practices for businesses as a whole.
Here at Forum for Jewish Leadership (FJL) we’ve experienced first hand the diversity benefits brought about by remote internships, with the remote programs we’ve been running since the onset of the pandemic. Our experience running remote internships has both affirmed assumptions as well as revealed a few surprises.
Firstly, it’s clear that remote internships are an equalizer–true, one needs a computer and internet connection which is not available to everyone, but access is much higher today than ever before. Therefore, candidates coming from a culturally less globalized environment or from a lower socio-economic background are at less of a disadvantage to those who come from a higher socio-economic background or more globalized culture. The focus on what you can ‘do’ becomes more central than one’s specific culture, class or any other identifier.
As well as broadening access, remote internships also remove barriers. In FJL’s case, our in-person internship programs always included a travel component, i.e. the internship took place in another city/country than one’s own. This came at a cost, and although we did not turn applicants away for financial constraints, the remote internship option certainly boosted the number of interested people who wouldn’t have considered applying because of a price point.
We also found that aside from cost constraints, others were often prevented from traveling to in-person internships due to other barriers, such as caring, work or study commitments. A remote internship makes it possible to balance at-home commitments such as these, during the duration of the internship.
What’s more, in the FJL experience, being a global organization, we have often found that students in some regions have struggled to obtain in-person internships locally because of the level of competition which ends up locking out many talented individuals from opportunities.
However, remote internships level the playing field in other respects too. Success with in-person interviews can often depend heavily on soft skills such as confidence. More trivial factors such as what a candidate wears and their posture can also subconsciously impact hiring managers’ decision making. Interviewing for remote internships can help to remove some of these barriers, enabling the interviewer to focus more on the “hard skills” each candidate possesses.
Continuing with this thread, once an individual starts their internship, a remote setting can help someone who may not have the strongest social skills to thrive. With the fewer interactions that come with remote internships, individuals are judged on their technical skills and the quality of their work, rather than how well they network around the office.
As well as potentially enabling businesses to better identify the best candidate for each position, the diversity that remote internships deliver provide employers with other benefits too. It enables businesses to widen their net outside of their geographical boundaries and expand their talent pool of applicants. And bringing in interns from more diverse backgrounds has been proven time and again to provide numerous benefits to business, such as improved decision making and increased productivity.
When it comes to small businesses, many may have been put off by the in-person internship model of yesteryear, given the time and resource overhead this demands. But remote internships overcome many of these barriers. And with the diversity benefits these can deliver, many small businesses should start seriously considering the wider benefits that remote internships could deliver.
Effie Kleinberg is the Senior Educator and Program Director at the Forum for Jewish Leadership, an immersive internship program provider, focused on training future Jewish leaders. He has previously written for publications such as the Times of Israel.