I was shocked to learn this week that Lean In is hiring an unpaid intern. Yes, that Lean In – our generation’s premier women’s empowerment organization, started by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, one of the richest women in the world.
On Tuesday, Jessica Bennett, Lean In’s editor at large, posted this on her Facebook page: “Wanted: Lean In editorial intern, to work with our editor (me) in New York. Part-time, unpaid, must be HIGHLY organized with editorial and social chops and able to commit to a regular schedule through end of year. Design and web skills a plus! HIT ME UP. Start date ASAP.”
Internship experience is vital to students like me moving up the ladder, or the "career jungle gym" as described in Sheryl Sandberg's book. As a 22-year-old grad student, I’d love to work for an organization like Lean In when I graduate – but there’s no way I can afford an unpaid internship.
And I’m not alone; this summer, 30% of undergraduates in the US held an unpaid internship, and 3 in 4 of those unpaid interns were women. While many argue that unpaid internships help students find jobs after graduation, the numbers just don’t add up. Only 37% of unpaid interns get job offers after they graduate. On the other hand, 63% of their peers who take paid internships receive at least one job offer.
Moreover, organizations like Lean In are keeping lower income girls and women from applying, because many of us just cannot afford to work for free without outside economic support. Some young people have parents who can afford to support them while they pursue an unpaid internship, but many of us do not. By not paying interns, Lean In is keeping girls from these income brackets from applying and missing out on girls from diverse backgrounds.
Now, if Lean In were some bootstrapped nonprofit, maybe I could understand why they couldn’t afford to pay an intern (though I’d rather they figure out some form of compensation – maybe school credit?). But Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In’s co-founder, made a whopping $91 million this week when she sold about 5% of her Facebook stock. I think she can afford to spend .05% of that newfound wealth on an annual salary for someone with editorial, social, design, and web skills.
Join me in asking Sheryl Sandberg to “lean in” to paying interns a fair wage. As a role model for aspiring young women leaders, it’s the least she can do.