The intern uprising
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When Diana Wang took a head intern position at Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, she knew it would come with a lot of responsibility and no money — it was unpaid. But it was worth it to get a shot at her dream of working at the fashion magazine.
“I felt like it was this amazing opportunity because I would actually not get lost in the sea of interns,” Wang said. “I could actually really show off my ability [and] be seen as more than just an intern.”
As head intern of the accessories department, Wang oversaw the department’s fashion closet and up to eight other interns. She’d spend her days filing expense reports for her bosses, checking accessories in and out of the closet, and then supervising the other interns’ schedules. She was in charge of making sure they got upward of forty errands done every day. To keep up with all the tasks, she found herself putting in long hours, five days a week.
Wang knew the position would come with pressure and responsibility. She just didn’t expect they’d leave an intern with so much responsibility paired with so little training. Training is the whole point of an internship; the reason it was legal not to pay her was because it’s supposed to be an educational experience.
After the internship ended, Wang started to question her role as head intern. She realized that at other magazines there were actual positions for the work she was doing. The head intern position, the thing sold to her as a huge opportunity, felt like it was really the job of an accessories assistant, but unpaid.
“They really just needed interns more than honestly interns needed the magazine. But I think interns didn’t realize at the time how desperately their unpaid labor was needed just to keep these machines running,” Wang said. “And so for me, I just was like, … this has to stop.”
Wang didn’t know it yet, but she was about to be part of an uprising, a string of lawsuits from unpaid interns across the country and in several different industries, all attempting to change the rules of work.
On this week’s show, we’ll take you through not just Wang’s experience at Harper’s Bazaar, but the legal battle and its unintended consequences.
If you like this episode, share it with an intern (or an intern coordinator?) in your life. For even more “This Is Uncomfortable,” subscribe to our newsletter. This week, Reema looks back on her own internships and the difficult financial choices they presented. It’s all exclusively for our email list, so don’t wait! Here’s the latest issue, in case you missed it.
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