The danger of sexism when you’re interning – and how to handle it

Yes, I’m working for free. No, you can’t talk to me like that


One of the first things you’ll learn when you graduate is this: experience is priceless. Anything that fills up those blank spaces on your CV between working part time at your local in second year is gold dust.

I was lucky enough to land myself on a graduate scheme that allowed me to intern in Europe for three months. In our interviews, we were told over and over to ready ourselves for the culture shock of moving from little ol’ Newcastle to the big bad streets of Prague. My usual cocky self, all I was concerned about was trying to learn the notoriously difficult Czech language and get my head around the conversion rates. After all, I’d lived and worked in a big city my whole life… How different could Prague be?

My usual freelance office

My usual freelance office

After being given two weeks to soak up Prague’s stunning natural culture, I decided it was time to get to work on some internships, and that came with some surprising revelations. The one that was most disturbing (and most prominent) was the fact I was being so blatantly patronized for being a female. I felt like I’d gone back in time. Arguably, the most shocking thing of the gender inequality was how blatant my boss-to-be was about it. The new people I met were pretty much chill about everything – from work meetings in pubs to never setting an exact deadline – but the last thing I expected was casual sexism. Within my first meeting, which also acted as an interview, it was made inescapably clear to me the integrity of my journalism or the level of my degree would never be taken into consideration.

lauren2

When you go into work and accidentally end up back in the 50’s

Prior to meeting the director of the company I would have been working for, I’d been in touch with his previous intern who happened to be a boy I’d gone to uni with. Having asked him to give me a glowing reference, he turned around and told me all he had been asked is if I was good looking. I obviously laughed this off and assumed it had been asked in jest.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong.

After being offered some reporting work at an embassy meeting, I politely declined the job altogether as it came to light I’d only be sitting in on the hearing in hopes I’d ‘take a pretty picture with the guests’.

Thankfully, I applied to do several placements at once and I’ve been quite frankly blessed with my current boss – the epitome of a modern man who makes me feel respected, comfortable and honestly, just feel liked. I’m lucky to be in a position now where I’m constantly encouraged to push beyond my means and work harder than I ever had previously because I know how precious this work experience is.

lauren3

It’s light years away from the original attitude I was greeted with – and almost nothing has made me grow or mature more as a person because of it. So here’s how to cope with a sexist attitude, even when you already feel too lucky to complain : If you’re being made to feel drastically uncomfortable, speak out. Don’t be afraid to say not to something you’d decline if you were on your own soil. The chances are, it will lead to one of the best professional experiences of your life.