Taxi is launching paid internships for Black talent

With the first cohort arriving this month, the agency's Black Taxi team eliminates a financial barrier to entering advertising.

Taxi is taking a step towards addressing the lack of diversity in the Canadian ad industry by looking at most talent’s first entry point: internships.

The agency has eliminated unpaid internships, and replaced them with a new, paid internship program specifically for Black Canadians looking to get into marketing and advertising, or for those who are in the early stages of their careers and want to build their creative skills and experience. Launching later this month, it will be the agency’s sole internship program for the time being, though may bring back programs for other groups at some point in the future.

For its first round of interns, Black Taxi is looking to bring in five individuals who will work across the agency’s different departments. The interns will work virtually – as a result of the pandemic – and be paid somewhere between minimum wage and where a typical entry-level salary would be, according to Kimberly Chomut, HR director at Taxi.

As part of the internship, Black Taxi interns will be doing a capstone project and will also help organize events where Black marketing and ad professionals will share their experiences with the interns. They will also be partnering with organizations in the Black community to provide pro-bono creative work.

The new program comes from Black Taxi, an initiative that launched in July, with eight staff across two offices aimed at finding, hiring and retaining Black talent to effect change within its own walls as well as in the industry, including making necessary changes to the agency and its policies to make that happen. Working separately from its diversity and inclusion committee to give the issue dedicated focus, its mandate includes rewriting the agency’s HR practices and job descriptions, improving outreach and hiring practices to attract and hire as many Black employees as possible and partnering with a local organization to mentor and provide paid internship opportunities to members of the Black community.

When Stephanie Small – Taxi’s Toronto-based creative operations manager who is leading Black Taxi – first pitched the idea of the internship program to CEO Rob Guenette, he supported it “immediately.”

“I believe [the program] is important because Taxi, as a culture and network, is very supportive of people from all walks of life, from all diverse backgrounds,” she says. But as many companies have discovered over the last few months, good intentions can only go so far when it comes to battling systemic issues like racism, and often require special effort and action. Taxi first launched its diversity, equity and inclusion committee in 2018, after the ICA’s first diversity survey showed a discouraging disparity between the number of BIPOC in Canada’s ad agencies when compared to the general population.

Chomut says making this a paid internship program was “really important,” as it opens the opportunity up to those who wouldn’t have been able to do an unpaid internship, or those who aren’t currently enrolled in postsecondary marketing programs but are still interested in getting into the industry.

Unpaid internships across industries have been criticized because, even if they are providing course credit, they are only a realistic option for those who are able to take on a period of unpaid work. This excludes people who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and also results in a smaller talent pool overall, as many will focus their efforts on paid options instead.

“I’ve had conversations with past candidates who have turned down our internship because it was unpaid,” Chomut adds. “That’s going to be the biggest change in getting more representation at the internship level – because that really is the entryway into the industry.”