Opinion: Unpaid internships undermine DEI efforts

Serious about DEI? Stop expecting interns to work for free.
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Illustration of orange tent with flashlight beam pointing to sky

Not all students can afford to take unpaid internships.

Listen up, outdoor industry leaders. It’s time to start paying your interns.

I know: There’s no shortage of eager young people willing to work for nil. Hey, I was one of them. I accepted a three-month unpaid internship at an outdoor magazine a few years ago, hoping it would be a launching pad for my journalism career. (Turns out, it was.) I don’t regret the decision to work for free—despite thousands of dollars spent in steep rent and university tuition for an internship course that legalized my unpaid labor. But I was lucky. I had scholarships and family to help me afford it.

Plenty of talented potential employees can’t say the same. What about the students punching in at two or more summer jobs to fund their college education? They can’t consider an unpaid position. Students from higher-income families snatch the jobs instead, and we lose voices the industry so desperately needs. An internship at a major company can be a crucial foot in the door for a young employee. So if we’re serious about improving diversity in this industry, let’s start opening that door to everyone.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of The Voice.

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