Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org Courts Unpaid Intern Controversy
Wanted: aggressive go-getter to join high-profile foundation advocating for women’s rights in a male-dominated corporate world. Must work for free.
LeanIn.org, the nonprofit created by wealthy Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, created a stir on Thursday with a job ad posted by one of its editors that called for an editorial intern to work for no pay at the group, which works primarily to empower women.
“So ladies – who wants to LeanIn to an unpaid internship for Madam Moneybags?” tweeted Christina Trapolino, a marketing director in Austin, Texas. “Lean in and bend over,” tweeted Charlotte Allen, a conservative writer based in Washington, D.C.
A Facebook spokeswoman directed a reporter to a Facebook post late on Thursday by Rachel Thomas, LeanIn’s president. Thomas said the organization had worked with four unpaid volunteers in the past, and was planning a paid internship program.
“We support equality – and that includes fair pay – and we’ll continue to push for change in our own organization and broader community,” she wrote.
The Facebook post, from LeanIn editorial director Jessica Bennett, actually read: “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.”
Bennett, who previously held positions at blog site Tumblr, Newsweek, and the Village Voice, later posted on her page that the notice was for a volunteer rather than an official job posting. “Let’s all take a deep breath,” she wrote.
Both postings attracted hundreds of comments criticizing the organization for exploitative and hypocritical behavior.
Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” encourages women to stand up for themselves and take charge of their careers. Parts of the book deal with asking for fair pay.
Yet the book also stands up for women who work for free, including Sandberg’s mother, who spent years volunteering for causes such as the plight of Russian Jews during the Soviet era.
The book also encourages women to pursue their own path, whether a career or staying home with children, or some combination.
Some commentators speculated about the legality of hiring an unpaid intern. U.S. labor laws permit it, as long as certain criteria are met. An employer cannot derive an immediate advantage from the intern’s work, for example.
Recently, a Federal court held that News Corp’s Fox violated the law by not paying interns who worked on 2010’s “Black Swan.”