2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Debating Internships - The Value of Unpaid Work

Written by Megan Simpson | January 15, 2014

Heather Carmichael explores the value of unpaid work at SXSW 2014

Each March, SXSW features the most cutting edge digital content for tech practitioners from around the globe. The 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival is no exception and will feature more than 800 sessions. Today’s installment of the Session Spotlight features “Debating Internships: The Value of Unpaid Work,” a panel discussion led by Austin native and Business Development Director at Kelleher Communications Inc., Heather Carmichael (@scrabble04).

SXSW: What can you tell us about your panel at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival?
Carmichael: When Eric Glatt sued Fox Searchlight Pictures and won, the media took notice. A dozen lawsuits quickly followed and some employers responded by cancelling their internship programs. What is the true value of unpaid work? We’ll debate the issue from three perspectives: Intern, Employer, and a major University. Our experts will discuss changing ideas, recent labor rulings, and company best practices surrounding internships. We welcome a lively debate and Q&A.

SXSW: Is this a topic you’ve spoken about before?
Carmichael: Internships are a timely topic receiving much attention and media coverage recently. I've presented at a couple of conferences and spoken to numerous client groups over the years regarding internship program best practices. For an organization to have a successful internship program, paid or unpaid, its managers need to understand the program, benefits and buy-in. In the past, I've received very mixed and opinionated reactions. However, I advocate both unpaid and paid internships, as long as laws are followed.

SXSW: What can you tell us about the other speakers on your panel? What perspectives will they be able to provide the audience?
Carmichael: Here's the 411 on the other speakers on our panel: Eric Glatt is an advocate working to end exploitative unpaid internships in the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors and has developed an outspoken media presence. Glatt is a named plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York and a board member of the Fair Pay Campaign. He also participates in the grassroots Occupy-movement working group Intern Labor Rights—itself a member of an international coalition of advocacy groups working on intern labor reform. Glatt has earned an MBA from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of International Management degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and is currently attending Georgetown Law as a Public Interest Fellow. Tiffany Grady serves as the Associate Director for Academics in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin. She oversees recruiting, retention, diversity, course planning and departmental outreach efforts. Tiffany received her Bachelors degree in Journalism at Oklahoma State University and her Masters in Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. Tiffany began her career at UT in Corporate and Foundation Relations in the College of Natural Sciences. She completed four (unpaid) internships in the world of journalism, including a stint at the Late Show with David Letterman.

SXSW: What excites you about this topic?
Carmichael: What excites me most about our panel is the notoriety and experiences of our speakers and active participation from the audience.

SXSW: In your opinion, why is speaking at SXSW Interactive a big deal?
Carmichael: Speaking at SXSW Interactive is a big deal for me because I've helped clients put on many successful panels in the past, but this is the first time I am hosting my own. The more work you put into your panel, the more success will come out of it. Speaking at SXSW is a huge bonus for your resume and you make a lot of notable contacts as well.

SXSW: This doesn’t have to be related to your topic at SXSW, but what is your favorite current TV show?
Carmichael: This is dorky, but my favorite TV show right now is Property Brothers. It's almost as good as Trading Spaces, and I learn something new each time. My husband and I own a few rental properties in Austin and are amateur fixer-uppers.

SXSW: Does the future of technology excite you or frighten you?
Carmichael: The future of technology excites me. Most of the frightening stuff has already been done to us, I hope.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. Register now to attend “Debating Internships: The Value of Unpaid Work” and other programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.