Lean In Hypocrisy: Sheryl Sandberg's Organization Is Hiring an Unpaid Intern

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 15 2013 10:12 AM

Lean In Hypocrisy: Sheryl Sandberg's Organization Is Hiring an Unpaid Intern

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Lean in ... but not here

Photo by Angelika Warmuth/AFP/Getty Images

Good news, everyone: Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In organization, the group whose purported mission is to help women's economic mobility, is hiring an unpaid editorial intern! Sam Biddle's eagle eye noticed this Facebook post by Jessica Bennett, Lean In's editor at large, from Tuesday:

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.
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As you'd imagine, the comments section did not take kindly to that notion, which led Bennett to write this bizarre follow-up post Wednesday:

Dear What Appears to Be My Entire Facebook Feed:

Want to clarify previous Lean In post. This was MY post, on MY feed, looking for a volunteer to help me in New York. LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers. This was NOT an official Lean In job posting. Let's all take a deep breath.

By Bennett's logic, withholding wages from interns—or, sorry, "volunteers"—is fine while working for an organization whose main purpose is to fight wage disparity. (It's also worth noting that Sandberg's net worth is pegged at upward of $400 million.) In December, Bennett herself wrote in the New York Times about gradations in wage disparity between white women and women of color:

The difference is stark: 77 cents for white women; 69 cents for black women. The final dollar — so small that it can fit in a coin purse, represents 57 cents, for Latina women.

This is well-trodden territory. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that unpaid internships save U.S. companies $600 million a year while locking less-privileged young people out of the job market:

Unpaid internships, in particular, exclude students from poorer families who can’t afford to work for nothing for a summer or a semester, especially after they graduate from college with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. The children of affluent families, on the other hand, can afford to live in the most expensive cities in the U.S., such as New York and Washington, making contacts, building their resumes, and sometimes even learning skills, while their parents pay for their room and board, travel and entertainment.

The message Bennett is sending to women who don't happen to hail from the upper echelons of society is straight out of a Fat Joe song. Lean In purports to help women overcome the wage gap by giving them a support network to encourage them—one can only hope there will be a Lean In circle for Lean In's unpaid interns.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

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