The ironies could not be more delicious:
- Sandberg has an estimated net worth of $US400 million.
- She sold $US91 million in Facebook stock earlier this month.
- And the entire point of “Lean In” — the book and the foundation — is that women should be more ambitious, press harder for their own success and not be afraid to ask for better compensation.
The original Facebook message has become a totem for Sandberg’s critics, i.e. everyone who believes that advice from rich people will not, in fact, cure all of womenkind’s career ills. Look at the hatred being spewed at Jessica Bennett, Lean In’s editor/producer, on her own Facebook page:
Bennett tried to point out that she was simply seeking a volunteer, but she has few defenders:
Rachel Sklar, well known in New York-San Francisco circles as the head of Change The Ratio, a group that advocates for women in tech, defended Lean In with a tweet:
I know it’s fun to pile on Sheryl Sandberg n’ all, but @LeanInOrg is a non-profit. Which has a budget. #justsaying
Here’s what Sklar and Sandberg’s employees seem to be unable to grasp. Lean In isn’t just another non-profit. It’s funded by Sandberg personally, and from sales of her best-selling book. Describing Lean In as a non-profit would be a bit like discovering Warren Buffet operating a lemonade stand and describing it as merely a lemonade stand.
Some unpaid internships are illegal
Also, unpaid internships are hugely controversial right now, and in some instances illegal. A judge ruled this year that interns on the movie “The Black Swan” should be compensated for their work. Unpaid interns at Conde Nast have also sued.
Non-profits may have a legal right to “hire” unpaid interns — and Lean In asserted that right yesterday — but this is about ethics: Unpaid internships contribute needlessly to economic inequality in the U.S.
The only people — women, in this case — who can afford to take unpaid internships are rich women, or women with rich parents, who don’t need to be paid. Poor women won’t be able to respond to the Lean In ad, no matter how much they want to support Sandberg’s program. And they are the very people who would most benefit from having Lean In on their resumes and perhaps a personal reference from Sandberg herself.
We asked Facebook if Sandberg had a comment, and Lean In communications chief Andrea Saul (formerly Mitt Romney’s press secretary) responded with this:
LeanIn.Org, like many nonprofits, has enjoyed the participation of some part-time volunteers to help us advance our education and peer support programs.
So Lean In “enjoyed” not paying its staff? That’s a cheap shot, sure. Here’s why I made it: It’s not that there’s an earth-shaking crisis here. It’s the sheer tone deafness of the thing.
One suspects this could have been handled better with a swift apology and an amendment to the ad, offering a small stipend for successful candidates.