THE BLOG
12/03/2013 03:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2014

Why Unpaid Internships Negatively Impact Women

When it comes to kicking off your career in the right direction, taking on an internship can often feel like a life-or-death situation. But sacrificing a living wage should never be the price you pay for experience.

In a recent InternMatch survey, 36.9 percent of employers said they offer unpaid internships or internships below minimum wage. As a woman, it's important to understand how these uncompensated gateways of career experience are impacting you on a different level than the guys in your college classes. Especially considering that three in four unpaid interns are women, according to a study by Intern Bridge.

So, why are women like you at greater risk for interning without pay? It may be because female-dominated fields like education, social sciences, health sciences, arts and humanities are most likely to offer unpaid internships. Today, you may be OK with taking on an internship at an organization or company without the funds to pay you for four months. But it's also true that allowing women to accept opportunities for less than their skills are worth sets us in the wrong direction for negotiating salaries in the future.

Here's why you should never settle for going without pay:

You're Not Doing The Economy Any Favors
It's no secret that the job market isn't exactly shining at the moment. And by accepting an unpaid internship, you're participating in an economy that promotes unpaid labor. This is because the millions of unpaid internships in the U.S. every year are costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

While paid internships transform into a job 60 percent of the time, unpaid internship experiences offer only a one percent bump over no internship experience at all when it comes to turning into a full-time, paid gig (37 percent vs. 36 percent). This data-supported realization that unpaid internships have only a one percent impact on employment should completely overturn the idea that "paying your dues" with unpaid labor will be better off for your career in the long run.

It Will Put A Cramp In Your Wallet
Oftentimes, taking on your dream internship means relocating to a big, bustling city, renting a pricey apartment, and not even being compensated for the duties you're spending so much time to afford to take part in.

For many students and recent graduates, taking on an internship means acquiring money in a variety of ways to cover not only the cost of the experience, but the school credit. This often comes in the form of student loans, parental support and even donations. In fact, 65 percent of students rely on financial assistance from parents during their internships. Why let someone else front the bill for an experience that should be paid for by your employer?

No Pay Opens The Door To Discrimination
Labor groups have fought hard over the last 100+ years to protect workers from discrimination in both the hiring process and on the job. But as an unpaid intern, you have no legal recourse when it comes to sexual harassment or discrimination on the job because you're not actually an employee. Scary, right?

With 20 million students currently attending college and 60 percent borrowing annually to cover costs, there's no penny that isn't being pinched. This plays into another form of unpaid internship discrimination: Unpaid internships aren't easily accessible if you're not affluent. As I stated above, unpaid internships aren't cheap. If you're not part of the upper middle class or swimming in extra student loan money, taking on an unpaid internship may not even be a possibility for you.

It's Probably Not Even Legal
Far too many employers are simply calling a role an internship and using it to bring on extra sets of hands around the office -- at no cost to them. This means it's highly likely that going without pay during your internship is actually illegal for your employer.

By law, private employers are only able to offer an unpaid internship if it's in accordance with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division standards. Make sure you've spend some time reviewing these before your internship search. In short, these guidelines state that in order to be unpaid, an internship must be highly educational -- as close as possible to the educational experience students are receiving in college. The employer providing the internship must also derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern or have duties that displace a regular employee.

You deserve to be paid for your time and duties during your internship. It's time to fight the outdated idea that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and working for free will get you ahead in your career. Stand up for paid internships -- not just for yourself, but for women in all industries.

Have you taken an unpaid internship? Share your experiences below!