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Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.Org backpedals, won't hire unpaid intern

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.Org is backtracking after controversy erupted over its efforts to hire an unpaid intern.

LeanIn.Org President Rachel Thomas said Friday that the organization would start a formal program and that interns would be paid.

"Like many nonprofits, LeanIn.Org has attracted volunteers who are passionate about our mission. We've had four students ask to volunteer with us. They worked flexibly when they could, and often remotely," Thomas wrote in a Facebook post. "These volunteers helped support our message and community, and gained valuable experience doing so. They did not displace or delay the hiring of paid employees."

But Thomas conceded that the position posted on Facebook -- seeking a "HIGHLY organized" individual with "editorial and social chops" to work for editor Jessica Bennett without pay -- did not fall within her organization's definition of a volunteer.

"As a startup, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid," she said.

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LeanIn.Org has been pushed into damage-control mode by the swift and fierce response to Bennett's Facebook post. Critics fumed that Sandberg, the wealthy and successful Facebook executive whose national bestseller "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" calls on women to demand fair pay in the workplace, would ask someone to work for free.

"It is a privilege of the affluent to say gaining experience is payment enough or that contacts are enough reward for one's labor," Colleen Eren said in a comment on Thomas' post. "For those who cannot rely on others to pay the bills or support their children, they have to take a paying job, leading to reproduction of the social class system already extant. I applaud LeanIn for taking steps to pay their interns."

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