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There has been a debate lately — in and out of the courts — about whether interns should get paid. NBCUniversal’s decision to begin paying its interns last spring has led to a surprising result. Of course, the interns probably are more happy to draw a salary for their work, but because of this the company has found its intern pool  to be more diverse now. This is according to Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBCUniversal.

“Advocates of paid internship programs have long maintained that unpaid internships discriminate against students of color and those without well-heeled parents,” reports the Maynard Institute.

While NBC decided to pay its interns, it as not revealed how many applied as a result. It has been argued in a number of industries that unpaid internships discriminate against those who can’t afford to work for free.

“While understandable, the result is a class system where those wealthy enough to afford to live without income in an expensive city (and Washington is an expensive city by any definition) get experience and access to jobs. Young people in the middle class or from more modest backgrounds are shut out – the economics simply don’t work,” PBS wrote last year.

“While we don’t share specific personnel figures publicly, we have been pleased with the increase in the ethnic diversity of our intern population, and we look forward to continued growth,” Robinson told the Maynard Institute.

NBC News is now getting applicants, however, from such colleges as Mississippi State University, who could not previously afford to take an unpaid job in New York.

When speaking recently at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York,  Robsinson, who is black and Asian American, also said it was vital to craft diversity messages that everyone in the company can adhere into. When he received complaints that “affinity groups” at NBCUniversal, such as Women’s Network@NBCUniversal or the Black Professional Alliance, promoted “self-segregation,” Robinson answered that keeping diverse groups satisfied “makes us a stronger company, which is good for everyone,” including “white, straight males,” reports the Maynard Institute.

NBCUniversal is actually taking a close look at diversity in its ranks. Even the word “diversity” itself is being reexamined. Robinson said, the philosophy is now referred to as “diversity and inclusion.”

Despite the increase in diversity on the intern level, there needs to be more work done, Robinson said at the conference. “I have done outreach, and we ended up with very few or no applicants [of color] for the really terrific jobs,” Robinson said, speaking of middle-management positions at the company. “We’re not finding enough producers.” By contrast, “We have more on-air candidates than we have on-air jobs.”The African-American audience is ‘extremely attractive’ to television executives because African Americans ‘overindex’ in television watching,” reports the article. “The Asian American is largely online,” Robinson said, and “underindexes television watching by 20 to 30 percent.” TV on-air jobs are reflecting the audience, says Robinson.

Friday’s panelists underscored the importance of making diversity a company-wide priority and of journalists to become what Escobar called “holistic.” For Escobar, CNN’s website has become a place to find those with the skills to to work on other CNN platforms, he said. Robinson told the audience he urges colleagues to have “recruitment parties” instead of mixers, with the price of admission a candidate for one of the top 10 jobs open at the time.


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