Lean In, If You Can Afford To

In our recession riddled, student loan burdened Millenial generation, it would seem that everyone else has an opinion or advice on the world we are starting to enter into.

The New York Times has written countless articles about our poor, poor generation and our pitiful job prospects. A particularly good, recent one entitled “The No-Limits Job,” outlines employers who are looking for the horrifying “22-22-22,” a 22-year-old willing to work 22 hours out of the day, for $22,000 a year. The Guardian raised some eyebrows with an editorial published this spring simply entitled “Unpaid internships and a culture of privilege are ruining journalism.”
But the most recent, and perhaps the most damning, evidence of the truly unfair work world that we Millenials have inherited comes from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Surely you know Ms. Sandberg. She wrote a little book called Lean In, single-handedly making feminism cool again? Ah, yes. Well it turns out that despite being worth roughly a billion dollars, she can’t seem to find the funds to pay an editorial intern minimum wage. Well, she is now. But only after people called her out on it.
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Look, life isn’t fair and paying your dues is necessary for character building. But when did working for free become the norm for getting ahead? If you aren’t convinced that unpaid internships are just a teensy bit discriminatory, take a look at some of these stats from a report from Intern Bridge, Inc:
  • 77 percent of unpaid interns are women
  • 87 percent of engineering internships are paid, compared with 35 percent of social science internships being paid
  • Higher income students are more likely to take unpaid internships in the media, arts and entertainment.
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I’m getting ready to finish my master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern’s School of Journalism. My classmates are all smart, well-educated people who came to this program, despite journalism’s tumultuous few years, because we believe we are all talented enough to take journalism to this new media age. However, we’ve all been shocked at some of the parting advice from our professors. “Move to New York and apply your heart out for jobs. Take an unpaid internship in the meantime.” they say. “Um, well, what if we don’t want to start out in New York, and also, what if we can’t afford that?” Is a common retort that is followed by a non-answer followed by a shrug.

At a recent barbecue with a beloved professor, my friends and I bemoaned the fact that a lot of our current job prospects were unpaid internships. His wife, a higher up at Northwestern’s School of Engineering, shook her head. “No. We don’t post unpaid internships. At all,” she told us. “You guys shouldn’t have to put up with them either. Don’t put up with it.”
Don’t put up with it. Advice easier said than done, to be sure. But if there is one thing our generation seems to be good at, it’s raising hell.
Would do you think? Are unpaid internships glorified slavery, or a necessary evil? Does anyone have a particularly good or bad experience with one?


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  • Reply August 22, 2013

    Ali Vitali

    I worked at the same company for two summers leading up to graduating college – both summers unpaid, save for a travel stipend. Both jobs gave me amazing “real world” experience and the connections I made are still helpful to me today. After graduating, I took an internship, this time paid, at the same company. Turns out those years of being unpaid paid off in that those connections who could speak about my work ethic and prior time with the company were some of my recommendations. Within weeks I was offered a full time position. Said company has since started to pay its interns, and I think that’s great, especially because you are treated as a full time employee and it is a massive corporation. That said, with the job market being what it is, we’re forced to do what it takes to make ourselves marketable and employable — that means internships, paid or unpaid. Now that brings up a whole slew of other issues (job creation, costs of education, and the moral correctness – or lack thereof – of working for free) but at the end of the day while we wait for the Powers That Be to tackle those issues, be it in Congress or in board rooms or in courts (see: Fox interns who sued for being unpaid – and won), the old adage “do what you gotta do” comes to mind. It’s not fair, but until we can define rules otherwise, either intern up or realize that funemployment is only fun for a little while.

    One final note: I, too, went into journalism. In New York. I feel your pain, but it can be done.

  • Reply August 28, 2013


    I think it’s really important to focus on your passions as well as the trends in the job market. To get ahead, you need to have technical skills. I enjoy content creation and writing but with more of an analytical approach.

    I recommend taking classes in design, coding, data analysis to support your degrees.