Since the financial crash in 2008, contingency workers are more commonplace than ever as part of the U.S. workforce. According to a report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) in 2000, contract workers, temps, the self-employed, part-time workers, and interns composed almost 30 percent of the current workforce. The one factor all of these positions have in common is the lack of long-term job stability. In fact, the Department of Labor calculated in 2010 that up to 30 percent of companies routinely misclassified regular employees as independent contractors in order to avoid providing benefits. The emphasis from employers is on workplace “flexibility” these days, but often times the flexibility means that a worker must give up the stability of benefits or a full-time position to take the work that they see as a crucial step in their career. This can be especially hard on women in the workforce since they’re more likely to take one of these contingency positions.
One college senior who spent the summer working as an unpaid intern at a luxury lifestyle magazine in Washington D.C., said she believes more women work in unpaid internships than men because “I just feel like guys wouldn’t accept [unpaid internships] as easily,” and she added that her male classmates were more likely to take paid internships at “consulting and ibanking” firms. A recent survey conducted by InternMatch determined that 36.99% of companies offered unpaid internships or internships beneath minimum wage. And three out of four of those interns were women.
The ongoing justification for taking an unpaid internship or a contingency position is that the experience will lead to a full time position. We tell ourselves that if we hang in there, are affable, flexible and willing to do the work for next to nothing or without benefits, that our employer will notice our hard work and hire us for a permanent position. Statistics show that paid internships lead to full-time positions 60% of the time. However, in female-dominated fields like education, social sciences, health sciences, arts and humanities the internships are most likely unpaid. Experience is valuable, but so is being paid for our skills and time.
Contingency work can hurt women in the long run, because there is no legal recourse for workers who aren’t considered employees by a company. The U.S. Department of Labor has specific standards that companies should follow for their internship programs and laws that cover contract workers. However, some companies offer internships as a simple way to get more hands in the office. There are many interns and contingency workers that exist under the radar of the labor laws, and therefore, have nowhere to go when harassment or discrimination occurs.
Another aspect that hurts women in the contingency workforce is that we lose the practice of negotiating a salary. Working for below minimum wage, or worse, working for free with the excuse that it will get you ahead in your career with experience, only hurts us in the long run. Negotiating a salary and benefits that fits your experience and education is a vital component to a healthy career regardless of industry. Although contingency work may get your foot in the door, you should be careful that it’s truly a step up the ladder in the workplace. Know your worth, and negotiate for the proper compensation to protect your rights and your career.
Mosley, Ashley. “Why Unpaid Internships Negatively Impact Women.” Huffingtonpost. 3 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013
King, Noel. “More women in unpaid internships: A ‘major’ issue” Marketplace.org 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013
Schwartz, Madeleine. “Opportunity Costs: The True Price of Internships” Dissentmagazine.org Winter 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013