Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org is seeking an unpaid intern. That set off a shit storm in the tech world that suddenly realized that unpaid internships exist. Of course, the fact that this was Sandberg who recently penned a book on empowerment urging women to ‘lean in’ to achieve their goals. The nonprofit claims to be “offering women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.” So it is perhaps the optics more than actually the issue of an unpaid internship.
Personally, I believe there should be no such thing as an unpaid internship because everyone needs to pay rent and eat. Offering an unpaid internship in exchange for ‘building experience and opening up opportunities for the future’ only results in attracting people who have supplementary income or have rich parents. You never attract the best talent and often are discriminating against the lesser-advantaged who deserve equal opportunity at upward mobility. If you can’t afford interns, then brew your own coffee and pick up your own mail and don’t hire interns. That said, is Sandberg’s nonprofit really doing something that’s not done elsewhere?
I got into a minor spat with couple of Apple journalists because he used the word ‘bitch’ to describe Sandberg. The usual reasons were cited that she is a rich woman and can afford to pay her interns so she should. I agree but the fact that her organization is choosing not to will cripple their mission by not attracting the best talent or perhaps there are simply more people out there willing to work for free. I could turn the argument around and say that Apple should perhaps pay their Chinese labor more because they make gazillions of dollars in profit. But I know how the free market works and perhaps by our standards, those people are lowly paid but perhaps for them, that job is far superior to the alternative. Businesses routinely exploit this lack of alternatives and it is routinely defended by Apple bloggers. And they are argumentatively right. So why single out Sandberg? Perhaps it is the optics or contradictory to her nonprofit’s mission. In that case, it can be said without the use of the word ‘bitch’.
Anyway, I did not make these arguments on Twitter with those journalists/bloggers because you never get into arguments on Twitter. Especially if you want to remain sane.
From Fast Company: When to ‘lean in’ for an unpaid internship and when not to.