The Challenge Of Unpaid Internships

The lack of diversity in the mainstream environmental community is apparent in almost every organization, meeting, and conference. And while the community discusses the approaches to better address diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g. evaluating an organization’s make up and external outreach programs) there is one aspect that has never come up once in a DEI conversation that I have been a part of – unpaid internships.

I get it, it’s challenging, the nonprofit community operates on shoestring budgets to pay its own staff, let alone pay for interns. I was a product of unpaid internships and was grateful for those opportunities, but I also recognize that those who can take advantage of unpaid internships are those who are economically stable enough to do so. How many incredibly talented people is our community missing out on because of this issue of access?

Green 2.0 highlighted the diversity challenges in the environmental community. Not only do we need to be intentional about organizational make up and how we conduct hiring searches, but we need to be thinking about the barriers we are putting in place that becomes exclusionary to the next generation.

I obviously cannot speak for every organization and their strategies behind offering internships, but I believe they are an opportunity – a missed one for internships that are unpaid – to ready the next generation with the experience they need to hold their own in the job market.

So on this Earth Day, I appeal to my friends and colleagues – take your organizational reflection one step further and think about how you may be creating barriers for our next generation of environmentalists.