The Washington Post

Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org won’t be hiring an unpaid intern after all


(Laurent Gillieron - AP)

In a post on (where else?) Facebook Thursday evening, the nonprofit affiliated with Sheryl Sandberg's book and women's leadership movement, LeanIn.Org, responded to the controversy that erupted this week over a listing for an unpaid internship at the organization.

"The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org's definition of a 'volunteer,'" Thursday's post read. "As a startup, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid." To be clear: Sheryl Sandberg's organization won't be hiring for an unpaid intern after all, confirmed spokesperson Andrea Saul in an e-mail Friday morning. This follows a statement to Keli Goff Wednesday night that “LeanIn.Org, like many nonprofits, has enjoyed the participation of some part-time volunteers to help us advance our education and peer support programs.”

Kudos to the organization for deciding to pay its interns from here on. As hundreds of people have already said in the debate that ensued from LeanIn.Org staffer Jessica Bennett's posting Wednesday, unpaid internships--whatever their value and whatever the various legal questions may be that surround them--are not exactly an exercise in equality. There is plenty of irony in the idea that someone working for an organization that is founded by one of the world's richest women and that urges women to push for fair pay and advancement would have listed an unpaid opportunity. The nonprofit's response that "we’ll continue to push for change in our own organization and our broader community" is commendable.

That said, the latest announcement did not come from Sandberg, but from Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn.Org. Thomas is listed on the organization's Web site as a founder, along with three others: Sandberg, Debi Hemmeter and Gina Bianchini. Thomas is the president of the nonprofit, but Sandberg, as the author of the book and the originator of the idea, is the leader of the Lean In movement. I'd guess many people would think it's her responsibility as well to say something about the controversy. I'm among them.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

A cheat sheet for Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In'

Why it took Facebook so long to name Sandberg to its board of directors

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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