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Essteem, a Mutual Aid Network for Women Engineers

Two French entrepreneurs living in New York have created a platform aimed at fostering the recruitment of women to engineering companies. After a three-month trial in France, the Essteem startup is now setting out to conquer the United States.

Women make up 20% of engineers employed in France and earn 20% less than their male counterparts — a situation also reflected in the United States. But how can the glass ceiling be broken in such an unequal sector. Hugues Seureau and Sylvain Dechartres believe the solution lies in career referral and mutual aid.

“It has been proven that mixed-gender teams in businesses are more effective,” says Sylvain Dechartres, screenwriter, author, and speaker. His colleague Hugues Seureau, entrepreneurial strategy manager, remembers “realizing there was a problem during the Women’s March of 2017.” Both founders say they “wanted to use Essteem to help professionals find jobs while also fighting against inequalities in pay, gender, and diversity.”

The startup is taking advantage of today’s popular system of career referral. It is free to join the platform, and all members are professionals who draw on their own networks to reply to job offers posted in the fields of engineering, science, and technology. The person who helps find a position for a woman candidate then receives a sum of money for their efforts.

Gender Solidarity and Donations to NGOs

“The businesses in this sector are prepared to pay recruitment agencies up to 10% of an engineer’s annual salary to find the right person for the job.” This can sometimes be as much as 15,000 dollars. However, Essteem only asks companies to pay 3,300 dollars, a percentage of which (up to 1,300 dollars) is then redistributed to partner NGOs such as Première Urgence Internationale, the Fondation Abbé Pierre, Aid India, and Girls Who Code.

“Traditional career referral networks rely exclusively on financial gain to attract their candidates,” says Hugues Seureau. “But you need to offer that little extra if you want to find suitable applicants.” Businesses chosen by the network also have to promote values of equality and diversity, while being inclusive and environmentally responsible.

The two Frenchman originally designed their platform to foster the recruitment of women, but are now being encouraged to include applications from men. “If a woman helps a man find a job, then he will help her in return,” says Hugues Seureau.

Essteem was launched in France, Switzerland, and Belgium last January, and already has 200 members. As they move forward, Sylvain Dechartres and Hugues Seureau are counting on Meetup events and mentoring competitions to promote their concept in the United States.

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