Why unpaid internships are a gendered issue

The following article was posted on the Babes on Bay Street blog by Janet Graham. Babes on Bay Street is an online community that offers support and inspiration to women (and men) who work in the financial services industry in particular and the corporate world in general.

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 MagazineJezebel, 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 theCanadian 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.

– Claire Seaborn

Click here to view the article and Janet Graham’s comments on the Babes on Bay Street blog.

Canadian Intern Association on CBC’s Metro Morning

This morning Claire Seaborn, Chair of The Canadian Intern Association traveled down to the CBC studio to do an interview with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning. Claire was interviewed along side Addie Sorrell to talk about their intern experiences and discuss the inherent problems with unpaid internships. Addie Sorrell told her story of an internship gone wrong, which involved her being lead on about possible employment and treated with disrespect. Claire discussed her positive intern experiences and outlined some of the legal problems in Ontario and across Canada with unpaid internships.

Tune in to hear Matt Galloway and the Canadian Intern Association discuss the current internship landscape and what students should do to avoid being exploited.

Canadian Intern Association on CBC’s Metro Morning