STEM careers – campaigning to break the gender divide

Written By:
David Smith

A recent survey of 8,000 adults conducted by the Fawcett Society has found that people don’t want to be ‘boxed in’ on gender issues and what they were calling for was an end to the marketing of products and services specifically targeting males or females. They argued that such marketing enforced gender ‘stereotypes’, and almost half of respondents expressed the belief that gender was more ‘fluid’ than simply being confined to male or female.

The gender stereotypes that have existed since it seems the dawn of time has in turn translated through to the education sector with fewer women choosing to go onto Further and Higher education.

However, it seems that the pendulum has swung and recent UCAS figures would suggest that there are now more women than men applying for courses Higher Education courses this year, in fact as many as 100,000 more.

STEM careers are a particular area of interest – the gender divide has been seen to be at it’s starkest in this area. And because of that disparity, it has been a focus of governments and educators in recent years, resulting in numerous campaigns and initiatives to try to drive up applications amongst young women to study STEM subjects.

It seems those campaigns successes although not nationally proven yet at least are proving fruitful in one isolated example. Liz Hodgkinson a civil engineering lecturer at Plymouth University recently commented, “We’ve seen a four-year increase in women on the coastal engineering courses. It may also help that almost a third of our civil engineering lecturers are women, which is unusually high, but we work with professional bodies, such as WES (Women’s Engineering Society) and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering). We raise the profile of our female students by putting them forward for awards such as the Women In Property Award (in 2016 one of our second-year students reached the regional final), and South West Women in Construction.”

So has the tide turned and are we starting to see a growth in women in STEM careers? The truth is, the number of women studying these subjects is still relatively low but it is changing following these concerted marketing efforts to parents as well as to the women themselves.

The picture in industry is still bleak with women in STEM careers making up as little as 20% of the IT industry and just 13% of all STEM occupations, compared with approximately 40% of the total global workforce.

There is still a ‘drop out’ between women in ‘STEM studies’ versus women in ‘STEM careers’. Is it now time for marketing teams in Colleges and Universities to leverage those excellent employer relationships and develop campaigns that challenge employers to continue to question gender stereotypes in the workplace?

But is it even their responsibility to do something about this? Certainly here at Just Enough Brave we know how well education marketing teams understand their audience and the STEM industry so it would seem to make sense.

But then again why should we need to market so heavily to motivate the modern empowered woman? If you read the thoughts of leading marketers the suggestion is that ‘gender marketing’ is dead and a really good marketer should know this above anything else (if of course, you have a plenty of relevant data about your target demographics). The key is to use this data appropriately, rather than pander to stereotypical gender norms.

What you should do is use this data to get your brand visible where these women actually are. By making gender a consideration in your targeting, you’ll be able to get in front of the specific women who are within your target audience in the places that they frequent (based on user data, readership figures, and more). This way, your campaigns can be seen by women, while allowing the content of them to skip the language and imagery that often appears desperate to remind readers that STEM careers are for women.

So what can be concluded from these recent UCAS figures if compared to Women in STEM careers? Well, it would seem that government and educators campaigns are working to some extent – with more women than ever choosing to study in Higher Education but this work has not yet translated to the STEM-related careers.

Certainly it’s not the responsibility of the academic institutions marketing teams to promote gender equality but let’s not forget that a significant role of education is to guide young people on the path to a career in STEM sectors. Maybe it’s time to get our thinking caps on!

Here at Just Enough Brave, we have a wealth of experience and understanding of brand and marketing communications in the education sector, working with colleges and universities across the country helping them to develop their competitive edge in this ever more aggressive sector.

If you’d like some guidance on injecting some innovation into your recruitment campaigns and brand experiences then please contact Managing Director Dave Smith.