Sheryl Sandberg Intern Debacle: Are Unpaid Internships Ethical?


Yesterday, while looking through my LinkedIn feed, and trying to figure out how I was going to find a job to pay back my loans, I came across something that happens everyday but continues to turn in my stomach.

The article read as follows:  ”Revealed: Sheryl Sandberg’s Unpaid Intern Disgrace.”


So you are telling me that someone who made 91 million last week, is the COO of Facebook, and wrote a book called Lean In to help professional women achieve their career goals, can’t pay their intern?

I want to say this is a tragic accident or that only some people are taking advantage of unpaid interns, but the reality of the situation is that this is a frequent occurrence. During my college days, I chose to do multiple internships. Out of every paid internship I found, I found a 100 others that were unpaid. While optimistic people might say, “Well, at least the company has an internship program and look at how many people you’ll be able to connect with.” The realist will say, “How do you pay for food, travel, and other bills without getting paid? And, if you use another job to pay for this internship, which becomes more important? On top of it, is this even an investment that is going to lead to a job?”

I remember being in undergrad and wanting to desperately pick up an internship in New York. I imagined all the experiences I would have, and the people I would work with, but when I was told that the internship I wanted to do was unpaid, those dreams went down the drain. Spending close to $430 dollars a month, $2,580 dollars for a 6 month internship on train tickets was definitely not in my budget. Anyone, who went to college knows that you can barely afford to pay the pizza guy let alone pay for an expensive New York internship.  Does this make me a bad intern/person who doesn’t have her priorities straight? No! It makes me a realist. Where am I going to come up with $430 dollars a month (not including food, appropriate business attire, and other expenses)? . So instead of looking at the coveted internships in New York, I had to back track and re-evaluate my financial situation, so I did an internship in Connecticut instead.

Everyone agrees that student loan debt is a major issue in this country right? Then why are we asking those same students to work for free? Is the economy that bad that businesses can’t afford to pay at least a travel stipend for their interns? Or are we heading into an arena where business owners like Sheryl Sandberg, realize that they can take advantage of “desperate job seeking college students.”

Sheryl Sandberg and business professionals like her are only hurting themselves and their companies. When you create a divide between those who can afford and those who can’t, you miss out on talent. A talent stream that could have brought millions to your company in the first place when hired full-time after their internship.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about perspective, and to change the perspective of the job market, how we treat interns, and those who are trying to make something of themselves, we need to step up and make a change.  The economy will not thrive on free labor. Nor will we get out of this Great Recession by wishing it away.  Petition, Demand, and Advocate for a better future for yourselves and for future generations.

Would you really allow your future son or daughter to work in conditions like this?

Please join me every friday on twitter (@Inspireme_cafe) and facebook ( for #StartUpFridays. Start-Up Fridays is a twitter/facebook series that helps those who are thinking about starting a business. When we help small business owners grow we are creating an environment where people are hired–not fired.

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