ACT | The App Association recognizes the gap in representation in the tech community, and we want to change that. Our Amplify series lifts the voices of those in the tech community who are working to close those gaps in representation. We’re highlighting the problem solvers, telling the stories that don’t get told, and elevating those who are driving change in their field.
This Amplify segment highlights French tech talent acquisition specialist Caroline Chavier, who is passionate about encouraging women, specifically in the tech industry. Whether it’s highlighting the work of women through networking or speaking at conferences, Caroline is highly involved with promoting diversity. She’s also the co-founder of the Paris Women in Machine Learning & Data Science meet-up and is the inclusion & diversity co-chairwoman at the RecSys Conference taking place in Copenhagen in September 2019. Caroline’s expertise in hiring trends, specifically with minority populations, within the tech community made her an ideal candidate for Amplify. Recently we sat down with Caroline to learn more about her efforts and what made a difference for her in learning how to amplify her own voice.
Note: Content may be edited for clarity and length.
I’m sure being a tech recruiter is interesting, especially seeing the make-up of your industry (HR) compared to the industry you’re recruiting for (tech). Can you talk about that?
Statistically speaking, human resources (HR) and recruitment are considered women-driven fields, while male professionals still fill most management positions. I feel that perfectly shows how, culturally, no matter we are in the world, the notions of “skill” and “authority” are ascribed to one gender over another.
How we can change that?
As a tech recruiter, I am used to hiring out of/into a male-dominated field. For instance, in Europe, in 2018, only one percent of the CTO positions of VC-backed European tech companies were occupied by women. We need to act now and stop pretending change will impose itself. Everyone needs to be involved in making the workplace a diverse and enriching one – it’s not sustainable anymore to associate a role with a gender.
Making professional fields more diverse will require everyone to be aware of gender biases, create role models, connect common inclusion-related efforts together, and encourage companies to take on the responsibility of creating more diverse policies. Topics such as pay equity, harassment, and career development will need to be addressed by HR professionals, managers, and leaders. Diversity is not just a good-looking word to put on websites or leaflets, it needs to be a priority.
I know you work very closely with the Women in Machine Learning & Data Science meetup in Paris. How did you get involved?
In April 2017, I attended the ICLR conference and met Chloé-Agathe Azencott, a machine learning researcher. When Chloé and I met, one of the first things we bonded over was the lack of female representation in the academic world. We both shared the same point of view: women were here, but they were not visible. Very quickly, we decided we needed to do something! After some brainstorming and research, we discovered the Women in Machine Learning & Data Science (WiMLDS) meet up. This well-known global community has chapters all over the world, but there was no chapter in Paris. She and I, along with two other engineers, started the Paris chapter of the WiMLDS meetup!
That is amazing! Can you talk a little bit more about what WiMLDS does as an organization, and what the events Paris events are like?
The WiMLDS organization was created by Erin LeDell in the Bay Area in 2013, “to support and promote women and gender minorities who are practicing, studying or are interested in the fields of machine learning and data science.” As of today, the WiMLDS community counts more than 39 chapters in different cities and continents and displays more than 21,500 members worldwide.
In Paris, the first meetup took place in September 2017. Since then we’ve grown to more than 1950 Meetup members. We are extremely proud of the tech scene’s support of the Parisian chapter.
We organize an event every two months featuring three speakers, including both an academic and an industry speaker. The third speaker is all about interaction: we usually invite a journalist, an economist, or a female CTO to open our minds and connect different fields together. We always make sure to highlight women speakers but keep the events open to any gender. We strongly believe that getting men and non-binary persons on board is crucial. Since we started, we organized 11 meetups and welcomed 41 speakers and an average of 80-100 attendees per occurrence!
If you are curious about the whole spirit behind the Paris WiMLDS meetup, I invite you to read a Medium post I wrote about the “10 Things I Learned Building the Paris WiMLDS Meetup.” We have many projects, such as developing the organization of joint meetups with other groups to point out synergies and make our members network outside of their comfort zone. We also want to keep fostering our external impact to make our action known outside of Paris. For instance, I was recently invited to talk about gender in tech at the European Parliament where I introduced the Paris WiMLDS meetup.
After learning about all the ways you’re working to amplify underrepresented populations, it’s hard to imagine that you have time for anything else, but somehow you do. Tell us about the RecSys Conference and how you’re involved.
The RecSys conference is an international and scientific conference focusing on recommender systems: “[r]ecommendation is a particular form of information filtering, that exploits past behaviors and user similarities to generate a list of information items that are personally tailored to an end user’s preferences.” The conference gathers teachers, experts, and engineers specialized in the field.
As an inclusion & diversity co-chairwoman for the 2019 RecSys Conference, my role will consist in making sure the conference will enable every attendee to feel safe, included, and welcomed. I am working alongside Humberto Corona to host an inclusive event featuring diverse speakers. Very pragmatically speaking, we will make sure we achieve parity in the speakers’ representation, set up presentation guidelines to make sure our website and slides are readable by everyone, and select an accessible venue to welcome everyone.
Being part of the organization committee is important to me because it enables me to transform words into actions, like the existence of the Paris WiMLDS meetup. I am not working on diversity issues because it’s cool, but because it’s critical and correlated to an intellectual need of mixing all kinds of minds together to create a more representative workforce.
OK, let’s talk a bit more about your background. What did you see yourself doing when you “grew up”?
I’ve always been fascinated by many topics: economics, history, literature, psychology, sociology, and environmental issues. From a young age, I always wanted to study at Sciences Po – the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Unfortunately, I was living in the countryside of France and daring to join such a world-class university was not a serious option in my mind.
However, once I was in high school, Sciences Po developed a program to improve its students’ diversity, in an effort to decrease social homogeneity. I fought for the partnership to happen at my school, went through a specific selection track, studied and prepared for several exams, and got to be the first one from my high school to join Sciences Po.
That is amazing – congratulations! What was it about Sciences Po that made you so driven to attend?
Sciences Po was (and is) an excellent university that teaches you to be curious, open-minded, and work on your ability to discover and develop a point of view about any and every topic. You’re taught that these notions are extremely important no matter what job you do. It’s part of being a responsible and enlightened citizen.
So many times, people are scared or intimidated to do something because they haven’t seen someone like them do it first. When was the first time you saw someone like you do something inspiring/doing what you wanted to do?
The first time I read about a woman that I identified as a role model was in a 2011 article about Floriane de Saint-Pierre in Gentlewoman Magazine, a British independent fashion magazine. I thought her professional career was atypical. She appeared to be a knowledgeable and fearless entrepreneur. I immediately wanted to be like her.
On a different note, I have always been a Madonna fan and one thing I owe her is the discipline I put in my professional life. Madonna always has stressed the importance of rigorous hard-work to reach the career and recognition she got: if you want something, you should work for it and never give up. I totally agree and felt inspired by this attitude.
I hadn’t thought about Madonna’s career that way, but you’re right, it’s really important to draw inspiration from a variety of sources! How has Floriane inspired you to be where you are today?
While reading about Floriane de Saint-Pierre’s professional career, I felt impressed and inspired. She seemed like a true visionary in her field and developed her own recruitment business from scratch. Even today, every current key fashion designer is being headhunted by Floriane de Saint-Pierre. I admire the fact that she quickly understood the importance of building a strong network. Her vision struck a chord with me and sparked a personal desire to do the same. I wanted to become an expert in my field, developing match-making skills and sharing my knowledge with others.
A huge part of being a successful, confident person in school or the workplace can come from having a mentor. Who are some of your mentors and how did you meet them?
Originally, I chose to join Sciences Po’s Master’s degree dedicated to Organizations and Human Resources Management. I was ecstatic because Floriane de Saint-Pierre was teaching an elective class as part of the program. Unfortunately, the year I started my Master’s degree she stopped teaching. Fortunately, she was replaced by another inspiring woman: Béatrice Ballini. At the time, Béatrice Ballini was teaching a class about “The Luxury Industry.” In addition to teaching, she was also a headhunter specialized in the luxury industry. I remember asking her for advice when I started to look for my first job. She welcomed me at her office and shared precious insights. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet inspiring and generous people like her because it definitely shaped the recruiter I am today.
How did you make the choice to take the career path that you’re currently in?
During my Masters’ degree, I did an apprenticeship at Chanel on talent management. I liked it, but I realized not working on recruitment issues was frustrating. I felt I could have made more of an impact by working on recruitment. If any company wants to be a diverse and inclusive one, it starts from the recruitment process. Right after my graduation I joined a consulting company specializing in finance banking and started my career as a tech recruiter. I’ve never looked back and have been able to grow my knowledge on things like software engineering and machine learning thanks to the engineers I worked with at various companies.
What do you want to leave readers with?
I would encourage anyone who’s not familiar with the “why” factor when thinking or talking about inclusion and diversity matters to read about unconscious biases. My favorite papers on the topic are: Constructed Criteria Redefining Merit to Justify Discrimination by Eric Luis Uhlmann and Geoffrey L. Cohen and Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse.
After having read those papers, question yourself and wonder what you can do within your workplace or as a citizen to make things change.