Do you have to pay interns? The short answer is yes. You absolutely should pay your interns. Naysayers will argue that an internship is more of a learning opportunity. While that’s true, your interns are still providing you with some sort of labor and should be paid for their efforts. To understand this better, let’s quickly discuss some of the top reasons your organizations should offer paid internships.
1. Unpaid Internships are Unethical
One of the biggest reasons you should pay your interns is that it’s the ethical thing to do. As Utpal Dholakia aptly points out, a wage should not be considered a substitute for learning and growth opportunities. Labor is labor and you should pay the people doing any sort of work for you.
To understand this better, let’s assume that your employer chooses to send you to a week-long training workshop hosted by the company. In exchange, they say they will deduct your wages for the week because you are getting to learn a bunch of new skills that will help your career in the future.
Does that make sense? No. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what you are doing when you offer an unpaid internship.
2. Unpaid Internships Are Classist
The bitter truth about unpaid internships is that they are inherently classist. People that come from wealthy families can sign up for unpaid internships and use them to advance their careers. In comparison, candidates from low-income backgrounds get left behind because they need to make money to meet their financial obligations. These people could be just as qualified (if not more), but they end up missing out on a great career opportunity because their socioeconomic status did not allow them the luxury of an unpaid internship.
3. Unpaid Internships are for Privileged
Proponents of unpaid internships might say that lots of people are willing to work for free. However, the odds are that these individuals come from privilege and can afford to take up an unpaid internship. Lower-class people who have bills to pay won’t be able to take an unpaid position.
The result? Interns from wealthy families can build useful connections that help them advance their careers. In comparison, people from low-income families get left behind. One might argue that making these connections can pay off in the long term. However, most young people can’t take such risks and forgo the ability to afford basic necessities.
This phenomenon eliminates social mobility and prevents people from migrating to the upper class.
4. Unpaid Internships Reinforce The Racial Wealth Gap
Trevor Smith reports that the median household wealth for a white family tends to be 12 times higher than that of a black family. That’s right. While we are not saying that an unpaid internship is the only variable responsible for the racial wealth gap, it is certainly a contributing factor.
Research also suggests that unpaid internships affect women, people of color, and people in the lower class the most. Once again, this is because these groups cannot take up an unpaid internship. On the other hand, their male, white, and upper-class counterparts can leverage these opportunities to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Ultimately, these opportunities translate into a widening racial wealth gap.
5. Unpaid Internships Contribute To The Systematic Barriers
Systematic barriers are prevalent across all kinds of institutions. Whether we are talking about educational institutions, workplaces, healthcare, or the justice system, these barriers work to keep marginalized people on the sidelines.
Unpaid internships add to this cycle and marginalized people suffer in the outcome. Even in the case of paid internships, a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers suggests that white interns are more likely to be paid than unpaid. The opposite holds true for Black interns. Meanwhile, Latinx candidates are more likely to never qualify for an internship in the first place. Multi-racial Americans are also unlikely to get an internship. Even if they do, it is unpaid.
The lack of equitable access to internships can create a systematic barrier that ultimately translates into fewer people of color in leadership roles.
Discover Paid Internships with One Club
Nearly 40% of internships at for-profit companies tend to be unpaid. Research suggests unpaid internships are meant for privileged individuals and contribute to increasing the racial wealth gap. They work as systematic barriers against people of color and primarily benefit white individuals who come from wealthy families and can afford to take up an unpaid position at a company for a brief period.
They are also unethical and classist in nature, and more companies need to address how they marginalize low-income individuals and people of color by preventing them from taking advantage of new career opportunities.
If you are searching for paid internships, One Club has collated a list of organizations that have pledged to pay their interns and help candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds get their foot through the door. Check it out today and take the first step toward exploring a career-building opportunity that helps you get ahead!