Diversity and inclusion are among the most pressing topics in recruiting, investing, and leadership development these days. So how do organizations ensure they are attracting the diverse talent they need at the earliest stages of the career pipeline?

A growing number of companies want to tap into the wealth of diverse talent that is available and are using a variety of strategies to do it. Those strategies include partnering with organizations that are dedicated to sourcing and mentoring diverse talent at an earlier stage, providing sponsorship for programs and fellowships that fund internships and mentoring, and dedicating resources (financial, leadership, and otherwise) to organizations committed to diversifying early pipeline opportunities.

Not-for-profits such as MVP (Momentum & Value for People of Color) partner with companies in healthcare, tech, and elsewhere to create a source of diverse talent, funding for internships, and a supportive pool of executive mentors.

“At MVP, through an expansive and diverse network of executives and leaders, we create opportunities, connections, and mentorship to provide practical help, advice, and ensure one’s success in their chosen field,” says Christine Sakdalan, one of MVP’s three co-founders. “Helping our MVP fellows get connected, have a personal board of directors, and gain experience in the workplace through internships—these things are essential in accelerating their success.”

One of MVP’s founding corporate sponsors is Health Monitor Network, and it was drawn to the organization by its real-world approach to building a diverse pipeline. “Everyone says that diversity is important to them,” says Augie Caruso, Health Monitor Network’s Senior VP of Sales. “But what does that look like from an everyday practical perspective? When we look at talent acquisition (and development), we’re very big on creating meaningful relationships with organizations like MVP to ensure that our candidate pool is representative of a diverse group of individuals and emblematic of the communities throughout the country where we’ve had a meaningful impact for close to 40 years. HM is a workplace that recognizes that diversity of cultural backgrounds fuels diversity of thought, practice, results, success, and collaboration.”

Chaim Indig, CEO of Phreesia, a technology company focused on improving the healthcare experience, agrees. “I am a strong believer in recruiting great, diverse talent early on. Our Early Career Program invests in people who are coming straight out of school or early in their careers, which directly aligns with MVP’s mission to help young people of color.”

The college internship is the first big marker in determining the health of an organization’s pipeline, and understanding the barriers facing diverse talent at this critical first stage is essential to building a reliable source of interns. Some facts:

1. Unpaid internships are not feasible for many diverse candidates.

2. Paid internships are disproportionately awarded to white students.

3. Unpaid internships are disproportionately awarded to black and multiracial students.

4. Hispanic-American students are less likely to have had an internship.

5. A majority of employers cite relevant work experience as playing a critical role in hiring.

MVP’s innovative pilot program supports the early career diversity pipeline by placing diverse students into paid or sponsored internships—students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), and colleges aimed at Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander students (AANAPI).

Like Phreesia and Health Monitor Network, the healthcare marketing agency Fingerpaint is supporting the diversity pipeline not just at its entry point but onward, which is critical to the success of diverse talent and the companies themselves.

Jeralyn Mastroianni, Chief People Officer at Fingerpaint, underscores this point, saying: “It’s well-documented that inclusive and diverse cultures are actually more creative and more successful, but it doesn’t happen by itself. You need to invest in it and commit to it.” Like Health Monitor Network, Fingerpaint and Phreesia are founding sponsors of MVP.

Companies that invest in diversity know the payoff. “Simply put, if we can build a diverse pipeline, it’s going to make us better as an organization,” adds Caruso of Health Monitor Network, which provides medical education to help foster a dialogue between patients and their healthcare professionals.

Making sure the diversity pipeline is sustainable and long-lasting means investing in a variety of ways including mentorship, network connections, leadership training, and more. That is why MVP’s second pilot program delivers what it calls “wrap-around” support: Each “fellow,” over the course of two years, is provided with the help he or she needs—from college to internship to hiring and throughout the career progression.

As Phreesia’s Indig puts it, “We think it is important to do what we can to support people of color to have equitable access to professional opportunities—especially in the healthcare and technology fields.”

The ROI on investing in diversity goes far beyond innovation, optics, and bottom lines. It’s personal. “Being involved in an organization like MVP helps us in so many ways, including doing our job better,” says Tracy Blackwell, creative lead at Fingerpaint. “It’s easy to read the news and think you know what’s going on, but when you become involved in an organization, you’re given a totally different vantage point.”

This is how you build and support a diverse early career pipeline. What are the ways that your company is ensuring that your internship pool is diverse? What partnerships are you creating to attract the diverse talent that can help your organization grow and compete?