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Love as an Internship Strategy

EPISODE 24

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In this week's episode, we are joined by Katherine Taylor, Executive Director of Genesys Works Houston, to talk about what love and inclusion have to do with corporate internships. We discuss equity of opportunity, the power of a network, and how major corporations are actually benefitting more from their interns than the interns are from them. 

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Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Host

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Katherine Taylor
Executive Director, Genesys Works Houston

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Mohammad Anwar
President

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ChrisProfile

Chris Pitre
Vice President

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Transcript

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Jeff Ma
Hello and welcome to Love as a Business Strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business, but we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from, we believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma. I'm a director at Softway, a company that helps businesses connect with their people and build resilience through culture-building products, leadership development, and technology. And today, I'm also joined by our president and CEO at Softway, Mohammad Anwar. Hello, Mohammad.

Mohammad Anwar
Hey, guys,

Jeff Ma
And also our Vice President, Chris Pitre. Hi, Chris.

Chris Pitre
Hey, cheerio.

Jeff Ma
Now, as we know, each episode, we like to dive into one element of business or strategy and test our theory of love against it. And today's topic is kind of unique. In my opinion, it's it's not like some of our other episodes where we start really broad with a lofty topic. We're actually starting pretty specific here and we're talking about internships and the roles that internships might play in business and for people. And to help guide us through this, I'd like to introduce today's guest, Katherine Taylor, who is the executive director of Genesys Works Houston. Katherine, so nice of you to join us today.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, thanks for the invitation. Glad to be here.

Jeff Ma
And there's a lot I want to dive into and hear more about you. And of course, Genesys Works. But before we do that, as per tradition, we have to do some icebreakers. And so I will open up the icebreakers that I have not seen up to this point. And Moh, you're first on this list.

Mohammad Anwar
Oh, no. Okay.

Jeff Ma
Yeah. So, what was the what was the first job you've ever had?

Mohammad Anwar
Hmm. So the first job I've ever had was to be a security, a desk assistant at the dormitory at University of Houston. So I had to do a late call shifts like eight to 8pm to 12am, sometimes 2am to 8am, and then go to calculus class right after. That was my first job.

Jeff Ma
Interesting. You always tell other people that this was your first job. This is what you usually say.

Mohammad Anwar
Well, a real job. I mean, that was a part time job.

Jeff Ma
Chris, you're up next. What is something you're good at? That you wish you could get paid for?

Chris Pitre
Throwing shade?

Jeff Ma
I could have answered that for you. I don't know why I bothered asking. They're simple enough. Agreed. Anyone who's watched two episodes of this would know that's 100% true.

Chris Pitre
It's a birthright in the Pitre family.

Jeff Ma
And last but not least, Katherine, what did you want to be when you were a kid?

Katherine Taylor
Oh, gosh, a forensic scientist.

Jeff Ma
Woah.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah.

Jeff Ma
What age are we talking about here? Are you like, like, I'm imagining like a five year old girl saying I want to be a forensic scientist. Is that the case?

Katherine Taylor
Oh, gosh. If we take it back that far, I think I want it to be a teacher. Um, I think I've always wanted to work with kids. But as I got older, I don't you know, forensic scientists, it seemed really thrilling, kind of mysterious, cracking the case. So, um, maybe a little bit different than what I'm doing today.

Jeff Ma
That's awesome, great answer. So let's dive into this. I really, I really want to know and hear from you about what you do. What is Genesys Works, and what do they do? What do you do? Break it down for us, please.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, so Genesys Works is a nonprofit organization. We are founded right here in Houston back in 2002. And our mission is to provide high school students from underserved communities with a pathway to career success. And the way that we do that is preparing rising seniors with what we call professional or could be employability skills, soft skills, and technical training to enter a year-long paid internship in the corporate space. So a lot of our students span between IT business internships, but I think simply put, we're really meeting motivation with opportunity for students that typically lack access to opportunities. So that's a little bit about, you know, our organization, um, you know, we're, you know, around kind of what we're hearing in the climate around, like diversity in the workplace, and you could extend it as we're a solution to that as well. But, you know, there's, that's a long conversation we can get into that. But ultimately, we're an internship program. And it's really about bridging between, you know, the the school system and a district school setting to the business setting.

Jeff Ma
Sure. And I think, admittedly, Moh, Chris, I think our experience of internships is like very narrow, right? Like, we only know it through the lens of what Softway has tried and done over the years, which is limited at best. So this is really interesting to me, because, in our brief conversations leading up to this, you know, Katherine, you had painted quite a world of internship that I did not realize existed out there. Can you share a little bit more about that, like the ecosystem of internships in general, what it looks like out there for those who don't know?

Katherine Taylor
Sure. I mean, I think what you guys talked about is kind of a narrow scope is accurate for most people. So if we say internship, people are thinking unpaid, got to get your foot in the door, you're maybe in college, and you've been offered, and maybe it's been paid. And Genesys Works is a little bit different, because we're targeting the high school age, really that rising senior, which is a pivotal point, and for many people, whether are you going to college, what pathway are you going to take when you graduate? And for many students, their resources become limited once they graduate, um, you know, we move out of our parents home, or we don't, but oftentimes, that's the case, and you're kind of you're independent. But I think getting back to internships, they typically exist for college students who are nearing college graduation, once they've already determined their career pathway. I think we put a lot of pressure on our young people to know what they want to be when they grew up. So obviously, you just asked me what I want it to be, that's changed many times. And so the other big piece is the paid/unpaid aspect. And for those of us who live in the internship world know that an unpaid internship is often a barrier for students to access the opportunity, at least the students that we serve, and for many people, earning a wage while going to school or earning a wage in general is critical and necessary, it's not an option. Specifically, too many college students have to work while they go to school, and they're still incurring debt. And so we think as we think about internships, to really access the talent that exists right here in our own backyard or cross, really the US. Having unpaid experiences leaves out a large majority of our population. And so you know, what I like to educate people on is, imagine the talent you can access if you try to like level the playing field a little bit, and provide a long enough experience for students to really see what is possible. So the other piece is internships are usually focused on a summer internship, or a short term, almost job shadowing. And I'd say Genesys Works is different, because it's a year long internship that allows students to integrate into the workplace team, provide meaningful work, but also they're there and a trusted resource. So companies also then give them meaningful work to do. And it gives you the opportunity to really see that performance cycle of onboarding somebody giving them the skills and the confidence and then seeing them go to work and bring impact to your organization.

Jeff Ma
Mohammad, I know you first connected with Katherine, can you talk a little bit about what you saw that resonated in this mission with what we're trying to do at Love as a Business Strategy?

Mohammad Anwar
I think what really got me so attracted to Genesys Works from their mission was when they had one of their graduates or alumni share his story. And it was very powerful to listen to his story. He was an immigrant who came to this country, I don't know if I'll do justice to his story, but just a quick synopsis of it was he was an immigrant who came to this country when he was a teenager, and he was just learning the language learning to live in the United States. And, you know, obviously, his whole family had immigrated. They weren't from a very high level, you know, socioeconomic status, and he had to find a way to help with his family and go to school. And how Genesys Works helped him, not just preparing him for the workforce, but given the opportunity to place him at an organization and how that helped him go to college, get his degree in computer science, I believe and how, you know, he's now able to support his family and bring a lot of value, you know, in the workplace that he's currently working at. It was very powerful to hear that story. And that's what got me so engaged and interested and I've been in touch with Katherine since then.

Chris Pitre
That is a, really, to me praise worthy cause. I've, you know, I'm black in case you didn't know that. So just, I've, I've seen and have a lot of friends, family members who just have the smarts but don't have the ability to make, make it into a space a place a workplace where those smarts can truly be leveraged, utilize and put to, you know, a productive use in terms of corporate America, right. And knowing that there's an organization that is, you know, giving that access and, and trying to really make space for those who, for whatever reason just can't get get there on their own is remarkable. So hats off to Genesys Works. But for you, Katherine, I would love to just dig more into what is that process? Right? So I know that you said like, you know, this is by way of an extension of the D&I issue that many organizations are surfacing and talking about, which is, hey, there's these candidates that we could be passing on, or there's these opportunities that we have that are not being fulfilled by everyone that potentially could do the work, bring value, have different thoughts, perspectives, etc? What is that sort of process, approach, conversation, like when you're trying to appeal to an organization to consider working with you, with your organization to bring in interns who are from under underserved areas?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, that's a great question. And I would say, um, you know, people always ask me, you know, kind of what's, what's your pitch to companies. And it does sound different, depending on why the company approaches us or the introduction. But really, it's about creating opportunities for students to see what is possible. And as you said, if you don't have the opportunity, you don't ever get to see it, and see what's there. So I'd say for many companies, their typical recruiting structure exists within specific colleges. So they're going to go and recruit from college A, B, and C and they do that year after year. And their feedback is, well, there's not enough diverse talent there. Or it's lacking. Many of our students stay local. And if you look at kind of our demographic of students, not just in Houston, but in our other cities, many of our students stay local because of financial resources, but also because they've not maybe had the opportunity to travel outside of their immediate city. And there's additional barriers that exist. And so for us, what I would say to companies is, you don't have to wait till college to start accessing a diverse talent pool. If you start in high school and you start making those connections, it's a great opportunity for you to build a loyal cohort of employees. So you get to help craft the pathway for the student as well. A specific example of that is when we talk about technology careers. And I'm not an expert, by any means, but when somebody enters an IT department, the different careers that exist, once a student enters, is really vast the same with engineering or our business interns. And the company gets to help shape those decisions in a positive way. But also open that students opportunities, but also eyes up to the options that exist, and then early on, build and bring that culture so the student can see what is the culture of this company? Is this a place I want to work? But it's access to talent before your mind has been made up or your career path has been determined. So I approach it that way with companies, I'd also say there's something about bringing youth into your organization. Specifically, if you look at corporate America, not all of our teams have high school students or immediate graduates, and there's youth that comes from that and a different perspective. And I think we're seeing more and more that companies that are seeing success are ones that have an inclusive culture that have diverse talent, different points of view. And so when we're talking to a company that gets that or gets it, and it maybe isn't there, it's a very easy conversation, because the paid opportunity also comes with an investment from the company. So companies that support interns help to cover the cost that's paid directly to the intern plus the part of our operating costs as an organization as we are a nonprofit. So you know, there's sometimes a financial barrier, but I feel like the benefit to the organization In the community far exceeds that, you know, monetary investment. So it's really, we're working together to build the future workforce. So the company needs or it needs to be open to the long term view and investment, not the short term.

Chris Pitre
Yep. And as you were talking, it reminds me, so I sit on the Education Committee for the American Advertising Federation. And one of the initiatives that they had launched a few years ago was to create these ad camps for high school students, who never thought of, considered, or imagined a career in advertising. Although they consume a lot of advertisements and see sort of all the marketing, they never thought of that as a career option. So I can imagine that Genesys Works is giving even those who have the talent, have skills, have interest, but don't even know what's out there have never been exposed to anything beyond maybe what's in their immediate circle, or what's been sort of shared with them verbally, and whatever environments they've entered, you're probably unlocking a lot more, you know, not just opportunity, but imagination, a lot of dreams, right? The ability to go after more, right, which, you know, you can have all of that, you know, sort of potential, but until you understand what all you can apply that potential to, there's somewhat of a limit to what you explore or where you extend your energy to.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, absolutely. I loved the fact that you've talked about dreams. But I think also perception of the workplace. And so, you know, it's talking to our young professionals, once they've been working, or when they finish our program is entertaining at times as well, they'll often say, but it's the reality, they'll say, you know, I just assumed it was boring that people were mean that you had to work 24 hours a day. Or that if you're an executive at a company, you were just plopped right on top, and given a sports car. And just this morning, I had one of our alums share with a group of individuals. And she said it was to sit down with my supervisor. And at the end of the day, we both get dressed the same way he is a normal person. And so there's this big gap between what's happening in our educational system and how we're preparing our youth to even know what's necessary to go into the workplace, but also that at the end of the day, we all have to wake up and get to work, whatever means we travel by, and that anybody can have that success. But at the same time, it's very hard to have that view of success if you don't have a bridge to get there. And I think that dreams and unlocking the potential. You know, if we look at our families, they either said you need to do something more than this, or you proceed with the same career options and opportunities that are available to you. And so for many of our students, it's unlocking what is possible. And it gives them a direct view of that. And I would say many of our students will go in and change their career choice because of what they see and the role models that they have every day.

Mohammad Anwar
So I wanted to ask a question around if I am a decision maker or a supervisor at a company that recruits interns from your program, what are some of the challenges and obstacles that I should be prepared for our how would you manage my expectations through this internship program? Because I have my own perception and view of, you know, high school, you know, talent, and what would what do you generally say and how do you manage the expectations of someone like that?

Katherine Taylor
It's a great question. So for a high school student, most people would assume that intern would spend time filing, making copies running coffee, right? And we see that on TV as well. But what I would say is they're capable of so much more, but it's with any employee when they walk in that first 30 days is critical. So you know, they have to have a point person to check in with how are you going to know what work to do in an open space and creating a welcoming or inclusive in an inclusive space to ask questions. So the great thing about Genesys Works is we're not just giving you a high school student and saying good luck. We provide them eight weeks of intensive training over the summer, which is focused on, you know, soft skills, but also technical skills. The goal is to give the student the ability and the skills so that they can acclimate quickly. Now they still might be shy and so that's where you come in and making them feel welcome but new employees when they come in, I'm assuming most companies have a process where they meet with HR, they meet with the team, they know who is their go-to person. So we want to treat the interns that exact way, because what you want is for them to integrate with your team and be able to hit the ground running. And I'd say, the other layer of support is that we have a full time program coordinator for every 20 students we serve, who acts as a liaison between the supervisor and the partner and the student. So we're really there to support and coach from before they start to day one and beyond. So we're able to help navigate some of the challenges that the student may face that you might not even see. But to really get back to your first question, it's, you know, make them feel included, share something about yourself. We know that just as humans, we crave that connection and understanding how are we similar, ohw are we different, but how do we work best together? So I think the challenge is always getting to know a new person and carving out the time to show interest and carving out the time to actually say, what are the priorities of work? What are the tasks that this individual is going to do? And then finding out what are the strengths of that individual and playing to the strengths? Which is again, I think, what we do when we set employees up for success as well. Yes, they are a high school student, so obviously, you don't have years of work behind them. But you're, it's kind of a magical part that you get to help craft that first experience.

Mohammad Anwar
Very cool.

Jeff Ma
What do you what do you say to these companies who are so accustomed and ingrained in just like, you know, the annual kind of unpaid internship cycle, and just like the kind of the farming of, of just like in and out like revolving door internships like, what do you what do you say to them? Like, what do you I know, you already said the pitch, but like, what do you what's missing in that conversation?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, well, so I'll be honest, Jeff, not all companies engage with Genesys Works. And many of them for reasons that you just said, right, they have their own internship, you know, process within their own company, or they don't truly understand the value. But most companies have some recognize some responsibility to helping build a stronger community. And so for those companies, I would say, there are so many ways to volunteer and engage. But engaging with Genesys Works is a very high-```touch form of mentorship and engagement that can have long lasting impact to your organization and the community at the same time. So invest in your team, and invest in the community at the same time and get meaningful work accomplished. So I would say most of our supervisors have a list of things that they would be doing, if they had somebody else to help with work. And we're a low cost investment with a big reward. So the return is much greater. And so that's how we would kind of play to some of those challenges is get meaningful work done, invest in your company and invest in the community at the same time. And it provides mentorship opportunities for team for your team. It also gives potentially new supervisors a chance to hone their skills and management by working with one of our interns. So those are some of the values are things that companies have been able to get out of partnering with us that are a little out of the box maybe.

Jeff Ma
And and it's this is such a, you know, compelling conversation for me, because I think we spend so much of our time talking about how we can harness the power of love to improve our business and improve our standings. And I love and I think it's so important that we also take the time to have the conversation of how do we harness our business as a means of generating love. Right. Like, it's also something that I think is missing in a lot of the, you know, in my opinion, selfish undertones and mentalities of, of the business world. And I think there's a there's a lot of power in that. So this is awesome.

Mohammad Anwar
Katherine, I wanted to talk a little bit more about how is it different from for someone coming from a socioeconomic status or underserved communities through this internship program? What does it mean to them and how does it really make an impact in their life? I'm sure you've you've seen through your time at Genesys Works, maybe seen some of the impacts it's had. Could you shed some light on that? Because I think that's very powerful to share how much of an impact it's making.

Katherine Taylor
Sure, so I never want to speak for my students directly because their story is their own. But what I can say from what's been shared with me, and what I've been able to observe is there's a significant ripple effect and the impact that the program has for a student. And I always say the program is transformational. But we're just providing the tools and opportunity. It's the student chooses what that transformation looks like. But we hear from students and Prashant is the individual, Mohammad, you're got to meet. And fortunately, he works for a national office, so I get to work with him regularly. Confidence is like the number one thing students will talk about. And so being shy or not willing to step out of their comfort zone. And so naturally, when we are shy and not willing to step out, we tend to pass up on opportunities, or we don't even see them. So confidence is a big thing that almost every one of our interns or young professionals will talk about. The other piece is when they take kind of the leap of faith, many students will say when we tell them, you can have a paid internship, your senior of high school, they don't believe us, or they're waiting for the catch. But those that, you know, move forward with us will say that impacted their their school community, their community at home, or just their broader community in the sense that other people start asking, you know, why are you? Why are you getting dressed to go to school? Or, you know, why are you doing your homework now? Like, what, what's going on? Why are you not playing sports, and they'll start to talk about the Genesys Works experience and their partner that they work with. And so then what happens is their sibling start to show interest or their cousin start to show interest or other students at school. And so you can see this ripple effect of interest. But also, as I mentioned, it's a paid opportunity. So for many of our students having this experience that comes with a paid job. Most of our students, this is income for themselves, it's income for their families. But it's also a pathway to, you know, economic self-sufficiency down the road. And so the really powerful stories that we get to share are the ones of our alumni who have gone on to secure, you know, a job that allows them continued upskilling and a career. And what that could mean for them is to buy a home, to be able to provide financial security or a home for their parents oftentimes. So that's that long term achievement. But it's also a job that enables them to have things that we take for granted, like paid time off, health benefits, and the ability to not work in an hourly job, but to have a job that provides a sustainable salary. So when we talk about impact, that's really the long term goal, right? So it starts with inclusion and opportunity and leads to a pathway to career success. So I think it's important that short term impact, but what's that long term impact that we're looking for. And those are the stories that to me, really resonate to the work, but that's not immediate. So I always tell my new corporate partners stick around for four or five years. Because then they start to see their interns graduate and come back to their companies and fill those full time roles. At the same time, many of our interns continue to intern or be hired part time with those companies while they go to school. And they become immediate part of that kind of work family. But yeah, having a sustainable career and something that for maybe some of our listeners, we don't recognize how important it is to have stable health benefits and all of the benefits that come with our jobs that, you know, we become kind of live in that comfort and don't recognize that the majority of people around us don't have that same level of privilege.

Mohammad Anwar
Can you also share maybe a little bit of information on the interns that come through your program, their backgrounds, you know, the socioeconomic status, or communities that you're helping just so we can get an idea?

Katherine Taylor
Sure. Um, so, you know, we talk about the students come from what we would call underserved or underresourced communities, and that means that they're potentially going to a school or living in a community that lacks resources for various reasons. And, you know, that's, we could talk about what's the systemic reasons behind that. But the majority of our students are students of color. We have about a 50/50 split any given year, so about 50% female, male, which for many STEM-based careers, we're not seeing women represented in the workplace. So that's a big piece that we really focus on since most of our internships would be deemed kind of STEM-based. And for many of our students, they're first time generation college students so about 80%, which is a big achievement for them, but also, because they go to underresourced schools or underperforming schools, they lack the college counselors that are needed. And we typically talk that our students fly below the radar. So they're maybe not always the top of their class in academic performance. So they're not being pulled out for those college opportunities. They're also not failing school either. But without some additional resources or guidance, they're gonna have to navigate that college pathway on their own, which I can speak, you know, I'm a first time college graduate. And I can just say that had I known had I had a mentor to walk me through the college process, I probably would have less debt, and not have stumbled so many times. And so I just think about those challenges that I had, and then, you know, I didn't necessarily go to an underresourced school. And so that kind of paints the picture of the students that have enormous talent, but we provided them minimal opportunities to get the support that they need to fill out something as simple as a financial aid application.

Chris Pitre
And I think one of the interesting things you just touched on, which I want to dig more into is the importance of the relationships that are formed in this, you know, in this mentorship or in this internship process, because I think that's one of the like, it's a benefit, it's a huge benefit to be able to say not only do I have a supervisor, am I getting exposed to these opportunities, and these, you know, these jobs, and, you know, executives that I would not have gotten to meet otherwise, I'm also building these relationships, regardless of where I go, I can always reach back out to these folks and get their guidance, their advice, ask questions, you know, seek clarity, if I feel like I'm at a place where I can't ask questions, I can go back to the, you know, boss that I had, or the supervisor that I had under Genesys Works, and get that coaching that I'm lacking in my sort of professional or full time role after college.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, and our students get two levels of support. So we as, as an organization, provide high-touch college and career support, navigating the college process, one-on-one and in small groups with our students. But then, as you said, they also have that mentor guide at work. But I think the social capital, that's still and, gosh, you know, we have so many people in our lives that we probably can say, oh, yeah, their dad, or their mother or aunt works here or there. But for a student to say like, hey, I interned at Heinz, my senior year of high school, and I know the CIO, Jessie, and I'm going to call him, he'll be a recommendation for me. I mean, talk about that. I did not have that on my resume. Right. I think that's just something that on it now that we're talking about, it kind of blows my mind, that senior in high school would have that level of experience. And I would tell you that even our students don't truly understand that at the time. But when they come back, and they said, oh, yeah, I graduated from college, and maybe it took me more than four years, but I was able to reach back to, you know, my supervisor at Halliburton, and then I did another internship at Centerpoint Energy, and then I was able to talk to the SVP there. And you can just see that they didn't even know that probably during the time of navigating it. Yeah, it's amazing.

Chris Pitre
The power of a network, you know, we talk about business networks all the time. But you know, when you are coming from a place where, again, you're you're in a transportation desert, a food desert, potentially, like resources are not abundant where you are, and you are in the process of looking for that job. And you suddenly realize, like, I don't have a network, like I do have this thing that costs me nothing. Right. And I can leverage that to get to the next thing or get to the next milestone, right. And I think that that is, to me a big gift that sometimes goes over overlooked on both sides, right? Whether you are the student or you are the mentor or the person providing the internship, but I would say like when we talk about love as an internship strategy, like that relationship between the intern and the, you know, the supervisor, to me is a huge part of the success, not just short term, but even long term of that intern.

Katherine Taylor
Absolutely.

Jeff Ma
Do you have any feedback or stories from the mentors or the supervisors or the businesses that how it impacted them? Because I know that I personally find a lot of, you know, personal satisfaction in being able to be a part of helping someone like that, there's tangible and intangible benefits. Could you talk about some of that?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah. I'm really glad you asked that question because I oftentimes believe that Genesys Works, but mentorship in general, can be more beneficial for the mentor or the supervisor as it is for the young person. And, gosh, two years ago, I was at an internship reflections speech. And that's at the end of the internship, we host a small gathering with some of the executive leaders and supervisors and students and their school champions, and they get to talk about what they learned what projects they were on. And, you know, in this reflection meeting, the supervisor got up and, you know, had tears in his eyes, and he said, I have high school aged children. And I didn't know that there were students that lived this close to me that didn't have this opportunity, or didn't know how to have somebody to help them fill out these applications. But he said, she has taught me more than I've taught her. And you could see the impact, not just professionally, but personally, that connected him to a level, whether you want to call it privilege or experience that he hadn't had before. So there's that power, I think the other piece is that oftentimes supervisors will be told that they're going to have an intern, or Mohammed, a decision maker says, hey, we're going to invest, and then they have to go find somebody to supervise. And they'll share that they were not excited about it. In the beginning, they didn't really know what it was. And they had never supervised somebody at all, or somebody this young, and that they were blown away at the motivation that this individual had and how prepared they were. And in some cases, outperform some of their teammates, full time teammates. And I think so also helps change the perception that like young people are going to come in, put their headphones on and just get on Facebook, or social media, whatever that looks like, I just probably aged myself with the Facebook comment. But I think there's a lot of different impact that we see from the supervisors. But our interns and this is almost a direct, quote, get work done. And that recently, we shot a video for our luncheon. And that's what the supervisor said, like, I didn't know what to do, but they got work done. And it took work off of her plate. And she was able to do more of the strategy work that she needed, and not get pulled down in the weeds. And the intern got this great experience. So I would say personal and professional impact. Jeff, as you mentioned, like being a mentor is a gift and to truly do it well, you have to whether you want to call it love, or you know, it takes empathy. And all of the things you have to build an inclusive environment. And you have to be willing to give a little above and beyond like your normal work day. But those that are open to that I think it pays back 10 times over.

Chris Pitre
Hmm. Yep. And I think one of the things that I'm pretty sure a listener is probably considering is like, well, how prone are they to making mistakes or getting things wrong? And I think that there's this subject of forgiveness that I think is part of the conversation. And I would love to know like, you know, what Genesys Works does to prepare employers for the likelihood that hey, you are still hiring a high school student who has limited exposure to the corporate workplace. So therefore, they don't know all the etiquette, norms, rules, you know, your culture, your your way of working, etc. So there's sure to be some mess ups, misspeaks, whatever the case may be. Interested to hear if you have any stories, or just ways that you prepare your corporate partners.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah. So I mean, I would say everybody makes mistakes. And we're working with a younger population with less experience. So yes, that is why our training in the summer is really valuable. And I'd say other internship programs might recruit and then place an intern, they're not starting it with training. So we try to break down the corporate norms as much as possible with our students. So that they, one, know what mistakes to not make. And that's as simple as elevator etiquette. You know what to do if you're taken out to a corporate lunch? Like what are the expectations of you? But I would say, yes, they do make mistakes. So we talk about like, how to give feedback, how important it is to give feedback right away and how important it is for interns to ask questions. So, you know, ask as many questions, take notes, and write down a process, so you're not asking the question three times. But overall, you know, we see about 10% attrition every year in our program, and that's mostly students who opt out for other types of obstacles that come up throughout the year which could be school related or family related. And sometimes it might not be a good fit. Just like when we hire new employees, sometimes it's just not a good fit. But the majority of our interns are able to correct the mistakes and learn from it. And it is also an eye opening experience, like the corporate workspace is not you don't get all these free chances to make mistakes and get better often. But it is a much safer learning environment for them than their first time, you know what their first time job would look like, we also have to know that they come from a school environment. And the goal is to have students graduate, our goal is beyond graduation, it's that you're going to show up and perform. And, you know, there's rewards right to doing that. But um, yeah, I think it mistakes are going to happen. But having that open dialogue, but also having the program support from us. If a supervisor does not feel comfortable giving that feedback, we can play that role to make sure that we're or do we need to coach more do we need more training? So I always say like, it's hard to get a perfect fit every time but a lot of work goes into understanding your culture, your expectations, and pairing that with a fit from our side as well.

Mohammad Anwar
Katherine, how has the COVID crisis impacted this program with the remote workforce in the picture? And, you know, becoming a norm now? How, how are you adjusting to that? And how are your interns adjusting to that?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, um, gosh, it has had an impact as it has for many nonprofits, and also businesses like yours. You know, back in March, we had to take what's a completely in-person, internship experience and programming experience from our side and convert that to a virtual environment. So out of about 213 internships, we had gosh, about 87, that were able to be virtual. The other internships had to end early, we were able to continue to provide our college career support. But unfortunately, you know, as we were having to navigate, those companies were trying to figure out how do you enable a work from home workforce? And I would say, many people, including myself, didn't think that we, how would we ever work remotely, and we figured it out. So this year, you know, we had a much more an aggressive goal of how many internship opportunities wanted to provide and that was definitely lessened. So versus 250 opportunities, we're providing about 120 right now, between our high school and our alumni internships. Many of our partners did not partner because they did not feel that they had the tools and resources to enable a remote internship opportunity. And also, we're seeing here in Houston, kind of the double whammy with the oil price and with COVID. And that's had a big financial impact on our companies as well. What I can say is, our students are just as engaged. And we've seen the same type of student and supervisor success. And we've removed some of the transportation barriers that our students have, which has been phenomenal. What it's also uncovered, not just for us, but every for all students is that we have so many people within our own local community without access to internet access, without access to technology that enables them to be successful at this time. And so while we traditionally don't provide those resources, we've had to shift and adapt so that our students can still access the opportunities. So those are some things that we've done, I'm really proud of my team. I think it shows that it's not about your curriculum, at the end of the day, it's about the people that you employ to achieve the mission. So we've been able to pivot and we are still virtual and plan to be able to be virtual through next summer, if that's needed. But we'd love, we'd love for more people, of course, to embrace the idea of a virtual internship because we know it can work.

Mohammad Anwar
Can you also give us a little bit of insight to the barriers that these students face? I know, you touched a little bit of it, but what what are some of the other barriers and examples of barriers that you see for your interns? And how do the organizations, number one, deal with those barriers or how did they overcome those challenges? Because, you know, I don't know if their awareness level exists, or they have even that kind of an idea, about the barriers. How do you go about managing that once you share with us what are all those types of barriers that exist?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, so there's a variety of barriers, um, transportation, so, um, you know, our city specifically wasn't really designed to get people from underserved communities into downtown and some of the other locations of work. Financial, so a lot of our students have to work. And sometimes they need to work a job that allows more hours than the internship does. Or they're sharing a car. So there's financial barriers, technology like I had mentioned. So, you know, many of us think of technology, we have access to Wi Fi, because our phone, that's different than having to log in remotely for work. Family support, so a lot of our students provide child care to other siblings. So sometimes that is a barrier for them to participate, because they're at work or in training, and not able to be at home to help enable their parents to go to work. I would also say schools are, you know, barriers around systems, and the lack of access to counselors, and other resources that are needed just for kind of day to day life. And then that list could go on, but those are the ones that we see. Stable housing support sometimes is a barrier that changes throughout the year, and it's kind of fluid. So I will be honest, that Genesys Works cannot solve all of those issues solely. That's we're not an organization that provides all of those wraparound services. But what we can do is reach out to other supports. There's many, many wonderful nonprofit organizations in Houston, that can help with those individual issues. But it goes back to the high-touch support that we provide, to help diagnose the barrier, to see the symptoms of the barrier, and then be able to help connect with external resources, whether that's through Communities in Schools, our school champion that we have, as well as outside resources. And sometimes we can provide some emergency support, but we try to look at like, what are some long-term solutions, and transportation is something that we do provide once they're in the internship. So we use mini taxis to get our students around. We also employ a driver who does that, but that's a big barrier. And that's a barrier for some of our other sites and other cities as well.

Mohammad Anwar
Interesting. Okay. Very good.

Jeff Ma
So, I think what I'd like to kind of, I guess I kind of share with the listeners now is kind of like, knowing all this, hearing all this has been very eye opening for me personally. And, you know, we talk about Love as a Business Strategy quite a bit. And I see an opportunity for people to actually practice through an action Love as a Business Strategy here. Can you talk about a little bit about like, what can people do from here? What can what are some steps? What's the first step here that someone might take?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I'm biased. I think we have an amazing program that brings benefit to the community and for companies, but I'd say the recognition around paid and unpaid internships, and being an advocate for paid internship opportunities, whether that's at the high school or college level, I mean, any type of job shadowing opens up, changes perceptions and removes barriers. But I think with Genesys Works like we are a unique program here in Houston, and a great opportunity for companies to get involved with a program that has a high return back to the greater community that helps to develop the future workforce, here locally and beyond. So the best way to get engaged is to get your, you know, your corporate or your business to host an intern or two or three. But to start there to figure out like, what would that look like, and we can help you navigate what that would look like from day one. You know, we're also a nonprofit. So we provide a lot of services outside of the exact internship opportunities. So we always are welcoming those that want to provide, you know, financial support to us. We get a lot of support from corporate giving, but also foundation support, that allows us to have the small ratio of staff to students, but also allows us to grow our presence here in Houston. Mohammad got to meet us because we recently expanded to Fort Bend ISD, and we served our first cohort there this summer. So, you know, it takes resources to grow. So we're always welcoming to that. But I think, Jeff, just being able to have that dialogue, to understand the importance and the gift that it gives. Beyond just that intern is really critical to just increase awareness. But you know, we're living right now in a time that I think there's this awakening that I hope continues around, recognizing that there's communities outside of our own community that we live in, and how, how do we raise our entire community up and that's going to it, it will be required that we start to look at creating solutions to these bigger problems. And that's providing, you know, this financial means and pathways for people to access opportunities that they've typically been shut out of. So when we say talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not. So I would ask corporations to come meet us in the middle, and start providing these opportunities at a younger age. So these communities can access and you can access their talent at the same time.

Mohammad Anwar
Katherine, what got you into this job? Why are you with Genesys Works? What is it that drives you every day to do what you do?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah. So I've always been involved in K12, or, you know, the education sector to some degree, and used to work really in supplemental education. And so I saw really early on in my career, that one person and one opportunity can change the trajectory of how somebody feels about themselves, about their life. And to have that caring individual, which I think ties into what we've talked about, you know, love, right. And so that's just continued through kind of my career experience. And I think high school students are such at this age where they can really disconnect and opt out. But if you can encourage them to opt in, and you can create relevance between what they're learning in school, and what they're the tools that they will need to have to be successful that, like, that's magic right there. And I think what's really powerful is we I get to do this and not be tied to a district or one company. But Genesys Works lives as that bridge between education and the workforce, or workplace. So I think my passion is, one, the experience that allows for our students to have. And we have an important mission. And it's, we're really building sustainable futures versus just, you know, you coming in volunteering for a day. And I think that, you know, I grew up in a family that believed that giving back and being involved in your community was important. And if there was ever an organization that you could invest in and volunteer with, I mean, you're changing, you're changing families and communities. And I think that, to me, is just a really powerful place to be in makes it worth, you know, gets me energized in the morning.

Mohammad Anwar
Awesome.

Jeff Ma
That's great. So for our listeners, if they want to learn more, where should they go?

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, so they can go to genesysworks.org, they can reach out directly to me, Katherine Taylor, I'm the executive director of Genesys Works Houston. But if you find us our website is pretty easy to access, I would say just reach out. We'd love to talk to you. But yeah, I don't know if we'll be able to share personal information. But you can find me on LinkedIn. I love to talk to you.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. Well, Katherine, it's been a really important conversation, I think, and a really amazing conversation that learning about in the world of internships, kind of an eye opening around privilege and equity really, around those topics for me and a lot to think about. But I'm really so appreciative of you for joining us today. And taking the time to come share about all these things, these amazing things you guys are doing over Genesys Works. So thank you for joining us today.

Katherine Taylor
Yeah, thanks for your time.

Jeff Ma
And Mohammad, Chris, thank you also for engaging this conversation, it was awesome.

Mohammad Anwar
Thank you. Thank you, Katherine.

Jeff Ma
Here at Love as a Business Strategy, we are posting new episodes every Tuesday. And if there's a business topic or any topic you'd like us to cover, let us know, drop us a note. It's softway.com/LAABS. And if you like what you heard today, please also think about leaving a five star review or subscribe on Apple or Spotify. It would mean a lot. So with that, thank you all once again, and I will see you guys next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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