Recent efforts by top schools in the US against unpaid internships might turn the tide on this practice, which has become just another way that US businesses get free labor, and at negligible education benefit to the interns:
The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported last year that nearly half of the internships taken by college students in the class of 2013 were unpaid. Many of these arrangements (often temporary, low-level jobs with dubious educational merit) may violate federal labor guidelines, which say that unpaid internships at for-profit companies must be “for the benefit of the intern” and that the employer may not derive an “immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” Yet colleges, through their career sites, frequently end up promoting internships that disregard these guidelines.
Two prominent universities in New York recently announced that they were tightening their policies on unpaid internships. In February, New York University said it would explicitly instruct employers posting on its job site to follow the Labor Department’s guidelines and to indicate that they are in compliance. (The university also clarified that it weeds out obvious noncompliant postings.)
Columbia University already had a similar warning on its career site. Last month, it said it would stop giving out “registration credit” (R credit) to students in internships. Those credits did not count toward a degree, and mostly functioned as a fig leaf for employers, who could pretend that the credit somehow justified not paying for a student’s work.
Columbia’s new policy brings it into line with other Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth that do not give R credits, and ahead of many other universities. In the past few years, exploited interns have started suing their employers, and a high-profile case against Fox Searchlight Pictures was decided last year in the plaintiffs’ favor. But American universities have largely stayed quiet or even defended the practice. On this issue, Columbia and N.Y.U. are setting good examples.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the internship practice has been its bleeding over into the world of college graduates or the ranks of non-collegiate workers. Now an established business practice, but starting to decline, after the peak internship moment last year when gazillionaire Sheryl Sandburg’s non-profit was advertising for an unpaid intern to help promote her book, Lean In.
The minimum wage exists for a simple reason: low-paid working class people have little individual bargaining power. The same is true of college student or young workers in general, hoping to get the first step on a career. But the government today is caught with its shoelaces tied together, seemingly incapable to take the simplest steps to protect those without power. I’m glad to see these universities setting the bar higher, and forcing companies to do the right thing.
Kara Swisher comments on Marjorie Scardino joining Twitter’s board, but notes that there’s still a huge underrepresentation of women in tech at all levels, and especially in leadership roles.
The tech industry — and, more specifically, Silicon Valley — continues to stumble forward in earnest about how few women are represented in its top ranks of management and on its boards. This, despite the enthusiastic embrace of tech products by many women.
This is not a new problem, of course, but one that rears its head periodically as it becomes clear that the ground gained by women in this perhaps most important sector of the economy — a sector more amenable than most to more tolerance and diversity, too — is being lost rather than gained.
Any gander at the variety of studies, and even a not-very-scientific look at the subject, will show that fewer women are starting companies, are being promoted at companies, are funded, are funders, are on boards, are being rewarded in the same way. At a high-profile party I attended last night, for example, the small handful of women in attendance all seemed to notice and comment on the massive sea of men, though the men appeared blissfully unaware of the imbalance.
“They have no idea at all,” one prominent woman said to me, recounting a story about her visit to an advisory meeting of a tech bank board, where she was the single woman in a room full of men. When she brought it up there — not an easy thing for her, since she was the only woman — she was met with a lot of genuine concern when the penny dropped, but few ideas for action.
• Moreover, given her [Sheryl Sandberg’s] positions first at Google and now at Facebook, it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. - Anne-Marie Slaughter •
The individualistic, libertarian-leaning Silicon Valley types have absorbed the credo that tech is a pure meritocracy, and if there is an imbalance in the number of women in the industry it is a flaw in society as a whole, education, or women’s ambitions. To some extent that is the message of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which characterizes the barriers to women’s advancement to senior roles as their unwillingness to ‘lean in’ — to be more ambitious, aggressive, and to take on more difficult work.
As Anne-Marie Slaughter put it in a review of Lean In,
Sandberg’s approach, as important as it is, is at best half a loaf. Moreover, given her positions first at Google and now at Facebook, it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. For both the women who have made it and the men who work with them, it is cheaper and more comfortable to believe that what they need to do is simply urge younger women to be more like them, to think differently and negotiate more effectively, rather than make major changes in the way their companies work.
So is the dearth of women in top jobs due to a lack of ambition or a lack of support? Both, as Sandberg herself grants, proposing that women should “wage battles on both fronts.” Yet she chooses to concentrate only on the “internal obstacles,” the ways in which women hold themselves back. This is unfortunate. As a feminist and a corporate leader, Sandberg seems ideally placed to ask the question that all too often gets lost amid the welter of talk about what women should do, what they should want and how they should behave. When it comes to ensuring that caregivers still have paths to the corner office, how can business lean in?
Sheryl Sandberg is soliciting for an unpaid intern to help promote her Lean In book. She made $91M the other day on Facebook stock sales, so couldn’t she at least pay minimum wage?
Maureen Dowd, in Pompom Girl for Feminism, pushes back on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.