Last year, over 3,000 local youth were employed at organizations and companies across the city through Seattle’s Youth Employment Initiative. This spring, employer partners old and new prepared to host 2018’s round of summer interns through a series of trainings and workshops provided by the City and Educurious. New this year was an Equity and Community Building training, aimed at preparing intern supervisors to have meaningful, productive and welcoming relationships with their interns.
The Initiative connects low-income youth who experience racial, social and economic disparities with professional opportunities they may not otherwise have access to. The Equity and Community Building training focused on helping managers understand their own biases and learn to create an inclusive workplace, so that interns will be set up for success in what will be, for many, the first professional experience of their lives. “This matters, if we’re bringing interns into organizations that might be predominantly white,” said Maketa Wilborn, one of the employer training facilitators, during the third and final round of training offered.
Wilborn and co-facilitator Fleur Larsen led the group of employers from across the private and public sectors through the three-hour agenda. The class unpacked the meaning of diversity, a word that “has been played-out” and that too often “centers whiteness” as Wilborn put it, and discussed the importance of centering equity in all work.
“Presenters like Fleur and Maketa want to hear what diversity means to each individual who chose to participate and help people come to their own conclusions about how they can make changes, if any, within their organization to be more welcoming and open to diversity of all kinds,” said Educurious’s Blake Konrady. “My favorite quote from the training is ‘my normal is not your normal’ and trying to understand different perspectives in the workplace.”
After a crash course in understanding systemic racial inequity, participants were asked to stand and move to different corners around the room depending on where they grew up. Once grouped by geography, the class partnered up to examine cultural norms they live and operate with, both in terms of the area they live in but also in terms of the sector they work in. Seattle’s reputation for passive-aggressive communication came up, for example, and representatives from nonprofit organizations in the room discussed the common issue of white saviorism in their lines of work.
Intern supervisors were asked to examine their own unconscious biases and learn to overcome feelings of defensiveness, guilt or resentment that can come up as a result of having those biases revealed. Larsen and Wilborn shared advice from previous summer interns on what made their work experiences valuable, and how their supervisors made them feel welcome and supported.
Participants left the class with a set of culturally responsive strategies to help ensure that interns would feel that they truly belonged in their host organization throughout their internship. One employer said the training “reframed my view of why we have interns at our organization,” while another said it helped them understand “what bias is and that you can ‘be a good person’ and still have engrained biases.” As a result of the training, one supervisor said, “I will spend more time getting to know my interns as individuals, and carve out time to mentor them daily.”