The Benefits of Recruiting Diversity Program Interns in Historic Preservation Organizations

By Special Contributor posted 11-09-2017 10:14


by Rebecca Yates

The preservation field continues to grapple with engaging underrepresented communities to tell richer and more inclusive American stories—and with reflecting this diversity in preservation practice. This was underscored in the 2016 Forum Journal issue, “The Full Spectrum of History: Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion in Preservation.” In her introduction, National Trust for Historic Preservation President and CEO Stephanie Meeks wrote: “a more diverse and inclusive preservation movement is not just an enormous opportunity for us to flourish … it is our responsibility to the past, present, and future of our nation.” With these words in mind, it is imperative that preservation organizations continue to not only present diverse histories but also expand diversity and inclusion in their work and missions—and that includes internship programming.

As the programmatic diversity intern at the National Trust this past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in diversity programming, review relevant literature, and reflect on what I observed and read. Throughout my internship, I saw the National Trust continue to promote diversity and inclusion in its workplace and programming through programs like the Diversity Scholarship Program and the in-house Diversity and Inclusion Group. But, though I felt welcome and enjoyed a comfortable, warm environment throughout my internship, I could not help but notice an apparent lack of racial diversity among many of the Trust’s departments and their leadership. The National Trust and its partner organizations would benefit from increased attention into their diversity programming achievements and gaps.

Diversity Scholarship Program recipients over the years. 

In the last decade, more organizations have been recognizing the value of diversifying their internship pools and programs. Studies continue to highlight the positive effects diverse internship programs have in promoting creativity as well as a more conscious workforce and environment. Preservation organizations should continue expanding efforts to reach internship candidates from different backgrounds, looking to resources like the 2015 Forum Blog post, “Fostering Diverse Voices in Historic Preservation Through Internships,” for tips and guidelines. And that is only the first step.

All too often, organizations think their diversity and inclusion work is done once they’ve attracted a wide-ranging intern pool. Unfortunately, considering how those interns interact with various departments and how the organization shows a commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout its programs tends to fall by the wayside. Indeed, as the 2017 Harvard Business Review article, “To Understand Whether Your Company Is Inclusive, Map How Your Employees Interact,” notes, organizations should consider how identity affects communication and collaboration across their full workforces. Pursuing diversity and inclusion is more than a matter of addressing workforce composition. It requires improving working relationships within the organization, across its partner networks, and with its wider audiences.

Mutual Benefits

Hiring diversity programming interns is one strategy. It effectively exposes the interns to opportunities while simultaneously strengthening the organizations’ diversity and inclusion initiatives and ethics. For the interns, diversity program internships may result in:

  • Experience in program development and event planning. I had the opportunity to support the National Trust’s Diversity Scholarship Program during its 25th anniversary and recommend new ways for the Trust to maintain and bolster this community in the upcoming years. In thinking through new strategies, I gained insight into what makes a program successful and how the National Trust and its partners may advance diverse communities and incorporate their voices into future programming.
  • Exposure to new communities and opportunities. While reviewing applications for the 2017 Diversity Scholarship Program class, I discovered an amazing preservation network and community in the United States and its territories, learned what various communities are doing to advance inclusion in the field and their own organizations, and had the opportunity to consider ways to advocate for their visions. I was also exposed to new career avenues that I had not previously known about. The experience diversity interns gain is invaluable not only to the preservation field but also to their career paths as they mold their interests and expand their horizons.
  • Problem-solving and collaboration skills. Diversity programming internships allow interns to exercise their problem-solving skills and identify connections and areas of intersection. Rather than viewing diversity programming as a separate, unique category or initiative, interns are able to locate potential collaborations. This experience advances teamwork and promotes their confidence in seeking future engagements and mutually beneficial partnerships.

Benefits to organizations that support diversity programming and internships include:

  • Promoting diversity efforts and values throughout the preservation field. Interns learn about methods and resources and continue diversity work in their future workplaces. Through these internships, preservation organizations encourage future generations to adopt these ethics and values in their work and lives.
  • Access to new audiences and allies. Diversity program interns can help preservation organizations explore how their programs and departments support diverse communities and identify new opportunities to do so. The organizations’ diversity efforts signal their desire to engage with communities and bring more voices to the table. During my internship at the National Trust, I noted a common concern about reaching out to younger generations, particularly millennials, and engaging them in preservation work and interests. Showing that your organization support not only a diverse workforce but also diverse programming increases opportunities to relate to and work with millennials interested in progressive workplace practices.
  • A means of attracting and nurturing new preservationists. Diversity program internships attract an applicant pool with a broader range of educational and experiential backgrounds. The interns may be enrolled in academic programs or involved in community organizations that are outside the preservation field but have related goals and values. Their entry into preservation can create a ripple effect, encouraging other emerging professionals to engage with preservation and advocate for shared values. Before I started my internship, I did not know about historic preservation, the opportunities available in the field, or its collaborative nature. Moving forward, I can be a greater, more effective advocate of the National Trust’s work and for historic preservation. 

For organizations that may not yet have diversity programming, are developing such internship programs, or find their workload already overwhelming, these benefits may seem unreachable. But even these organizations can still advance diversity by considering questions like: What are our diversity and inclusion goals? What programs do we have in place that support them? What existing positions can we recruit to contribute to these programs or assist with diversity planning? The organizations can then create three short-term, achievable action items to advance their goals. When those are completed, they can identify the next three!

Diversity programming interns, in addition to expanding their own professional horizons, can play a vital role in enhancing awareness within their organizations and improving their outreach. And organizations’ diversity internship programs highlight their commitment to diversity and inclusion while educating and supporting the emerging generation of preservation professionals and advocates.

Rebecca Yates was the summer 2017 programmatic diversity intern at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#Chicago 2017

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