A young University of Ottawa law student approached me to discuss unpaid internships at a reception following an event where I had spoken about the “Lessons Learned By the Babes on Bay Street.” I do not like “unpaid internships” but had not given the subject a great deal of thought, other than to arrive at the intuitive conclusion that unpaid internships represent a way for young people to be taken advantage of as they endeavour to enter the world of work, a world made more difficult in many cases by “grown ups” who had come before them.
In any case, this young woman, Claire Seaborn told me one of the reasons she had founded the “Canadian Intern Association” was because of the impact of unpaid interships on women. I asked Claire to write a guest post for my blog which she graciously agreed to do and very quickly sent me the following post (which has been modestly edited by me, so if you find fault, blame me!!).
Why unpaid internships are a gendered issue
By Claire Seaborn
As a female university student in my early 20s, I fall into the demographic most likely to have done an unpaid internship. In fact, I have done two unpaid internships. Many of my female friends and classmates have done at least one unpaid internship as well.
Dr Phil Gardner’s survey of over 25,000 American undergraduate students, found that 77% of unpaid interns were women (click here for the full report). Unpaid internships in the United States are far more prevalent for certain academic majors, such as education, social sciences, health sciences, community, and arts and humanities, which have higher proportions of female students.
There is reason to believe the situation is similar in Canada. Although statistics on unpaid internships in Canada do not exist, lawyer Andrew Langille estimates up to 300,000 unpaid internships exist in the private sector. In Canada unpaid internships are most common in industries that have predominantly female workers, such as journalism, marketing, and the fine arts. Perhaps, employers are less likely to see women as valuable enough to be paid and women are less likely to ask for a paid position.
Recent articles in Dissent Magazine, Jezebel, and The Economic Policy Institute Blog are the beginning of a discussion about unpaid internships as a gendered issue. A provocative title – “Are interns the new housewives?” – caught my attention. In an article for The Atlantic, Phoebe Maltz Bovy wrote: “that subconscious belief – that young, middle-class-seeming women are somehow automatically taken care of financially – has persisted to this day, and I believe it’s this assumption that prevents even otherwise progressive sorts from taking action to prevent the rise of the unpaid internship.”
The impact of unpaid internships on women is just one reason why I founded the Canadian Intern Association. We advocate against the exploitation of unpaid interns and aim to improve the internship experience for both interns and employers. Unpaid internships are typically against the law in Ontario and their regulation varies from province to province. This spring I will finish my second year of law school at the University of Ottawa. I hope to use my knowledge and networks to fight against yet another barrier women face in the job market.
Thank you, Claire for this post and for taking a courageous stand on a troubling issue and doing something about it!! This is leadership by my definition!!
I would love to hear your thoughts about this issue and Claire’s post. Please share them in the Comments section below.
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