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What diversity really means, and why it matters

Internships have become an increasingly vital part of any college student’s repertoire. There are a variety of internships out there but finding one in this competitive market is not easy. I have had the pleasure of partaking in two radically different internships. They were different not because one was paid and the other was unpaid, or because one was in government and one was in the nonprofit sector—but because one of them embraced and encouraged diversity.

In today’s day and age, uniformity is dying out, and people of color (along with people from a range of backgrounds) have a greater opportunity to reach their potential than they did in the past. With time, the definition of “diverse” has changed to include not only race, but sexual orientation, economic status, political affiliation, and more. Every company, organization, foundation, and board should make space for people of various backgrounds to contribute, achieve their full potential, and reach the top of their fields.

My first internship experience was for a congressional office on Capitol Hill. A common experience for students who, like me, attend school in Washington, D.C., I accepted the position because I knew it would be an educational experience and open doors for me in the future. On my first tour of the office, I noticed I was the only person of color, and one of only four women working there. Initially, I thought nothing of it, but as time went on and I ran errands to other offices and saw their staff, I noticed the lack of diversity on the Hill. This did not undermine the experience I had while working there or change the things I learned. I was able to attend briefings, meet members of Congress who advocate for issues I believe in, and take part in all related work.

But it wasn’t until I came to the Ford Foundation that I understood the value of diversity in the workforce. While the lack of that diversity at my previous internship did not take away from my experience, the abundance of it at Ford has enhanced my internship. As Malcolm Forbes once said, “Diversity [is] the art of thinking independently together.” His statement is proven time and again at Ford.

I’ve seen how diversity can open up conversations and showcase perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked. Working with staff who come from a wide range of backgrounds has provided me with approachable role models who have done amazing things in their lives. As I talk to them about their work and ask for advice, I’m able to learn from different experiences. Of course, there were people on the Hill who were also accomplishing amazing things, but hearing and seeing it from people whose backgrounds are similar to mine makes their accomplishments seem more attainable. This has boosted my confidence in my abilities and in my future.

 

Amara Amadiegwu is a rising junior at The George Washington University, studying peace studies and international affairs with a concentration in conflict resolution. She is an intern in Ford’s Strategy and Learning department.