Advancing Gender Diversity and Inclusion in STEM

We talk to Julien Barbier, co-founder and CEO of Holberton, who highlights the causes behind the gender gap in STEM and discusses concrete solutions to advance women in this field.

By Julien Barbier | Co-founder & CEO of Holberton School

At the 2019 Cartier Awards Ceremony on May 2 in San Francisco, we are bringing together and honoring some of the world’s most dynamic, forward-thinking and socially conscious businesswomen.

Many of this year’s finalists are successful scientists-turned-entrepreneurs whose ride to success wasn’t always easy.

In this blog post, we talk to Julien Barbier, co-founder and CEO of Holberton, who highlights the causes behind the gender gap in STEM and discusses concrete solutions to advance women in this field.

What are the biases and barriers that hinder more women entrepreneurs from entering the STEM fields?

The STEM fields are heavily populated by men and have traditionally been thought of as “men’s work.” In fact, a study published by Stanford University to understand the impact of these stereotypes, stated "that standard measures of academic performance are biased against women in quantitative fields." In many cases, girls and women are even discouraged from pursuing STEM careers, facing roadblocks in their education. Girls are often exposed to what is called a “stereotype threat,” the idea that one group is incapable of performing certain tasks. These girls are constantly barraged with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages of inferiority in math and sciences.

Among those who persist and do enter the STEM fields, many end up leaving “because of sexual harassment or other forms of gender discrimination,” with some even suing employees over such conduct. It has even been proven that women are paid less than men for providing the same work. According to a 2016 study, women under the age of 25 in STEM fields earn, on average, 29% less than men the same age doing the same work, with this wage gap dropping by only 5% for those women over 50.

What are some measures to accelerate gender diversity and inclusion in the science and technology sectors?

The first step is to inspire women to enter STEM sectors. A very efficient way to do that is to put the spotlight on role models, on women who are already successful in the field, that one can look up to. From very young age, stories are told to kids to inspire their studies by highlighting professionals for each – we need to shift from a men-only focus and include women in these stories as well.

The next step is to remove unconscious gender bias. A software company reached out to me to recruit Holberton School students and shared their struggle to hire women. As I was browsing their career page, I noticed that their website pictures were all “bros” drinking beer and playing football. No wonder their page was practically screaming “women need not apply.” When creating a new job post, using gender neutral words and pronouns is an important and often overlooked step in making women feeling accepted.

Holberton is a good example of how bias-free selection process can be utilized. Our application process is completely software-automated to remove ANY kind of unconscious human bias. Companies can make sure that the resume sitting on their desk focuses on what’s important - the skills of the applicant and skills alone - just by cleaning résumés of unnecessary information such as pictures, name, gender, and age.

Including a diverse set of interviewers for every candidate and using a service that changes the phone voices of the candidate, making interviewers as objective as possible, are a few other ways to accelerate the diversity and inclusion of women in STEM.

How do we move beyond the polarizing men vs women debate to unlock women’s full potential?

Why is this polarizing? Men want women to have equal opportunities too. They are our wives, or sisters, our daughters. I believe the more women and men are put on equal footing, the less debate there will be and the more work can be done.




Julien Barbier is the co-founder and CEO of Holberton, an international network of software engineering and computer science schools. Before founding Holberton, Julien was the head of growth and marketing at Docker. You can contact him on Twitter here.