Unpaid Internships are a Rich Girl Problem and also a Real Problem
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Forget 'Having It All' -- Own What You Want
One item, written by me (PDF).
Fire Your Boss - A Book Review. The book I'm reviewing is here.
So, let me quote from the first two. First, on unpaid interns in bullshit careers (oh sorry, did I say that out loud?):
We will only be able to successfully challenge the norm of unpaid internships if we move away from blaming the interns themselves. Female interns in particular are often taken to task for lacking marketable skills, perhaps for having studied feminist theory in college when the more feminist approach would have been engineering. But even if humanities-major jobs have always paid less, it is entirely different for them to pay nothing at all.
The availability of free labor makes the same work cost less. Postings stating that interns are "needed" might indicate that their work is, well, needed. Despite what popular images might have us believe, the problem with unpaid internships isn't that entitled young women are just hanging out in lieu of getting a job. It's that a certain, mostly-female population is signing up for what seems like on-the-job training, with no job in sight.
Right. It is totally not the fault of these whiny chicks that they chose to work an unpaid job in a career that has a lot of people very hungry for entry into that career. They were forced into it, you see.
You want to know why it's mostly women in these unpaid jobs for bullshit careers? Because 1. men are less dumb about this shit and require to be paid to do jobs and 2. the "prestige" jobs for which men will do unpaid is different from what women will do unpaid and item #1 was totally a lie.
You see, guys do go for bullshit careers as well, and try heavy-duty unpaid work. Think: rock musician, athlete, acting (a siren call to both men and women...likewise, production assistants for films. I ran over several whiny yong men trying to bar the way to my East Village apartment, and I doubt they were paid much at all). [I asked Stu for input on this bit, and he was being very unhelpful, giving the rec of gigolo, stay-at-home dad...].
Yes, men will bitch for not getting paid, because hey - we all want money doing stuff we enjoy. But guess what? A lot of men will realize that if they want to make money, they need to do a job that actually offers money. Some will win the tournament for these dream careers, but most people won't make it and will either keep being unpaid/underpaid or they will actually shift to something else.
I have done unpaid work known as volunteer work in the past - doing things that yes, people have gotten paid for in non-volunteer contexts (office assistant at a hospital, assistant cook for a soup kitchen - the head cook was paid, audiobook reader). I did not mistake any of these as entree into a career. I was paid very little in my original teaching jobs, but I enjoyed doing these. I even taught two undergrad classes at NYU for free. I taught at Mathcamp for a pittance but it was a blast. I just needed enough money that would cover my expenses for the time period, and I was fine.
I have done unpaid work related to my (current) profession: I volunteer for various actuarial working groups, and I write a lot of articles, all for free. Now, both of these have translated into further career opportunities. But that's not why I did them in the first place. I do it because I enjoy the particular activities, and don't mind doing them for free. I like writing about stuff. Now I get paid to write about stuff, but I don't get to choose my writing topics in my paid job. That's okay. I write on my chosen topics for free on my own time.
I did hit a point where I wanted to make more money. So instead of bitching that the original career path I was on wouldn't make me money at the level I desired, I sought out a career that would fulfill such requirements.
Women, if you don't want to be unpaid or underpaid, you have got to look for jobs or careers that have higher compensation. Men know this. Don't be suckers. [actually, plenty of younger men fall for this bullshit as well]
I don't fully blame the youngsters for being dumb and whiny about this. After all, it's not their fault that they were told as children that they should follow their dream, no matter how untethered to reality it is.
But at a certain age, you are responsible for doing your own research into your options. Choices have consequences. You decided you wanted to go into a career that has way too many people wanting in, and has low skill requirements, so employers can bid prices down to free. I do not want to hear bitchery about this. You could go work at something else, even if it's stocking shelves at a grocery store. I assume these people have at least that level of skill.
Slaughter: The first thing is for all of us to own what we want. Not what we think we should want, not what our parents expect or society or any of that. Own what we want and recognize that if we want both the power and dignity of a profession and the love of family -- however family is constructed -- that is entirely legitimate. Actually, we will be better for it, as our society will be. That's the first thing.
The second is to have the courage to both talk about it and ask for change. The worst that can happen is somebody will say no. But I think part of what my article demonstrated was there were a whole lot of people who are thinking about this. If you thought you were alone, no, the woman next to you and the man next to you, they were thinking about it, too. Have the courage to say, "I'm going to ask." Even if they say no and even if they think a little less well of me, well, that's not what I'm judged on. I'm judged on the quality of my work and I'm going to keep working. You're no worse off, and you may be much better off.
If you are in management, you should be willing to get out of your comfort zone. So many people tell me all the time, "Well, I'm just uncomfortable with a job share." Or, "Well, that goes against the idea. What are other people going to think if this woman has a different arrangement and that man comes in only four days a week?" Get out of your comfort zone. That's what change takes. Try it. You may be agreeably surprised. It's a long slow process, but it's a virtuous circle.
Yes and no. I agree with her second point: ask. You are not necessarily going to get what you want unless you ask. People rarely can read your mind. I somewhat agree with her third point, but she's too tied up in a particular point of view. I will not talk about that point in this already long post.
But first point -- "power and dignity of a profession"? That is bullshit. Some people get caught up in this too much, and they get caught in the prestige trap. Because of this shit, they allow themselves to be underpaid.
To quote myself:
The core message of Fire Your Boss is really “Kill Your Career.” (I’m going to guess they thought that title would not sell as many books.) The problem, the authors write, is that many people fixed on the
idea of a career are trying to achieve so many things at a job, that they ultimately fail in all their goals — of satisfaction, happiness, even making money.
One of the authors, Stephen Pollan, is a career counselor as well as financial advisor, and he lists some reasons his clients have said [for which] they work:
1. For power
2. For respect
3. For security
4. To travel
5. To serve
6. To meet people
7. To express yourself
8. For money
Pollan’s point is that all of the goals except money can be met more satisfactorily outside of work. For example, it’s better to make plenty of money through your job (in a reasonable amount of time) to pay for the travel you desire, than seek travel through your job. I have many friends who travel extensively as part of their jobs—but they never get to enjoy the destinations because when they get there, they have to work. Plus, you’re not likely to have much control over where you travel to as part of work.
Work a job for money. Period. Some other items may come along as a result, but if you have specific goals outside of making money, get a job that allows you to pay for the life you want. Have a life for other stuff.
The main message is in my quote above, and I give a lot of the game away in my book review, but the main message of the book is to have an attitude adjustment from all the bullshit fed to you as a kid as to the all-glory that is a career and being locked into a particular path.
So fine. The first time an unpaid intern runs into reality, I don't blame them for being in the situation. But if they don't learn from that (and it can be a fairly cheap lesson, that young and that early on in the working life), then yes, I do blame them for not learning from their experience. That's on them.