Days after reports that a nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was seeking unpaid interns sparked criticism, the organization has announced that it will launch a paid internship program.
On Wednesday, Jessica Bennett, a staff member for Sandberg’s foundation LeanIn.Org, posted on Facebook that she was seeking an unpaid editorial intern to assist in her work for the group. Immediately the post drew criticism in cyberspace, with commentators and Silicon Valley blog Valleywag noting Sandberg’s recent stock sale, which netted her a cool $91 million days before her foundation began recruiting free labor.
Bennett quickly responded with an updated posting stating that the unpaid intern she was seeking was not an official LeanIn.Org position, and a spokeswoman, in an interview with She The People, defended the use of volunteers by LeanIn.Org and other nonprofit groups.
But by Thursday, as the criticism intensified, LeanIn.Org’s president, Rachel Thomas, released a statement on Facebook that read in part:
“The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org’s definition of a ‘volunteer.’ As a startup, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid. We support equality — and that includes fair pay — and we’ll continue to push for change in our own organization and our broader community.”
The posting, and LeanIn.Org’s reaction, generated widespread criticism because unpaid internships have increasingly made it difficult for young people who are not wealthy to gain access to entry-level opportunities.
LeanIn.Org is not the only organization to grapple with the changing internship landscape. With unpaid internships increasingly becoming the subject of lawsuits and federal scrutiny, more for-profit and nonprofit entities are beginning to do away with them altogether. NBC News generated national headlines when it became one of the first major media organizations to announce it would pay its college interns, with its paid program beginning earlier this year.
Keli Goff is a Special Correspondent for The Root.com. Follow her on twitter @keligoff.