How investing in interns can accelerate women’s financial equality
Closing the economic gender gap calls for grappling with factors that contribute to gender inequality — including the underrepresentation of women in high-growth fields. While the gender gap tends to be most pronounced at the highest levels of management, it often trickles down throughout the organization, including entry level positions.
That's why targeted internship programs can play a critical role in welcoming more women to the workplace. These early opportunities offer talented women a chance to build new relationships and develop new skills. Plus, internships can forge a path to full-time employment, helping women advance their careers while providing organizations with a pipeline of diverse talent.
It is with these objectives in mind that PNC has supported internship programs that connect talented young women with opportunities in fast-growing fields.
Launching careers in tech
One area of focus for PNC is internships for women in technology — a sector where men currently make up two-thirds of the workforce.
“As a woman in tech, I am fairly used to being one of the few women in my college courses and in my tech-related clubs, and when I accepted an offer with a company in the finance industry, I was expecting more of the same,” says Kaitlyn Pierce, a PNC summer intern in the Corporate & Institutional Banking (C&IB) Technology Innovations team. “However, I was quickly surprised by not only the number of women in technology, but the number of women in leadership roles in technology at PNC.”
“Both women and men [in tech] have personal experiences that can bring new perspectives, ideas, and innovations to the table.”
With a lifelong interest in computer science, Pierce knows firsthand the value women bring to technology. “Gender equality is important in tech because both women and men have personal experiences that can bring new perspectives, ideas, and innovations to the table,” she says. And in some cases — like when teams are developing products designed to appeal to women — a lack of equality can limit creativity and undermine employee confidence.
Based on her experiences as an intern, she’s optimistic about the future of gender equality in her field. “PNC has taken countless steps to create an environment where women feel welcomed and heard," she says. "From day one, I heard presentations from female executives and managers. These opportunities renewed my sense of pride for the progress that women have made and grew my own self-confidence. I am excited to see this field continue to make progress and to watch the number of women in tech grow.”
Expanding into motorsports
This year, PNC also partnered with Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) (https://chipganassiracing.com/wim) to improve women’s representation in another fast-growing field: motorsports. “We know that creating a community of support is a simple yet effective way to tell these women to stick with motorsports and demonstrate to them that it is an exciting and rewarding career for women, just as much as it is for men,” says Debbie Guild, head of Enterprise Technology and Security at PNC.
The inaugural class of the program launched with five interns, including Purdue engineering student Jennifer Short. Short grew up watching motorsports — her father took her and her siblings to the Indianapolis 500 each year — and jumped at the chance to pursue at internship as a trackside engineer at CGR.
“When I saw that PNC’s program was aimed at bringing women into motorsports and bridging the gap between women who enter the field and women who get high up in the field, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “We definitely see more women in motorsports now than ever before. When I was younger, I didn’t really see many women in the pit lane. Now, it’s so cool seeing more women walking down the pit lane and knowing I’m one of them.”
“It’s so cool seeing more women walking down the pit lane and knowing I’m one of them.”
Short is optimistic about the future of gender equality in motorsports — and how more female representation will inspire women to enter the field. “When girls see role models in the field, they have someone to look at and think ‘I want to be like her,’” she says. “For me, that’s CGR assistant engineer Angela Ashford. I read articles about her when I was a freshman at Purdue, and now I get to work with her.”
She notes that teams benefit from gender equality, too. “Teams are realizing that women representation is a great thing. We bring a lot of benefits and new perspectives to the team.”
As Short heads back to Purdue for her junior year, she’s already eager to keep developing new skills on-the-job. “Chip Ganassi is just an incredible team to work with. The atmosphere, the teamwork, the passion everyone has here is so special. I learned a lot about the impact an engineer can have on a car and really enjoyed my summer here.”
Developing an inclusive internship program
Creating a meaningful experience for interns — and creating programs with a larger goal, such as tackling gender inequality — calls for mindful planning.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, building a diverse team of interns benefits your organization, promoting an inclusive atmosphere, bringing fresh perspectives to the workplace and boosting productivity and retention among employees.
Consider the five following best practices to make your program a success:
1. Put the mission front and center
A clearly-defined mission doesn’t only guide your decision-making, it also helps you attract talent. Highlight your program objectives and commitment to inclusion in job postings and campus outreach. And show authenticity by using inclusive, gender-neutral terminology – for instance, businessperson instead of businessman or businesswoman, server or waitstaff instead of waiter or waitress, staffing a booth instead of manning a booth
2. Focus on relationship-building
Starting an internship is often intimidating, and reaching out with introductions can help interns excel. Encourage staff to get to know interns — even those working on different teams — so interns feel comfortable seeking opportunities to pitch in when they have free time. And consider a mentoring system that pairs new recruits with more seasoned interns to aid in onboarding.
3. Offer financial support
Many students crave — or require — flexibility from employers, so allowing interns to choose their hours or work remotely may broaden your talent pool. Consider offering financial support, such as a housing or relocation subsidy, or pairing internship opportunities with scholarships to recruit talent.
4. Center mentorship in your program
Mentorship is a strong draw for talented students, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Invest in training to equip staff with the skills to mentor effectively and consider pairing interns with mentors who share a similar background, and bringing in speakers from across the organization to engage with interns directly.
5. Solicit feedback
For invaluable insight into the experience of interns at your organization, go straight to the source. Implement listening mechanisms so interns can provide feedback throughout their program, and conduct exit interviews.