School of Informatics and Computing Women’s Recruitment Campaign
IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing
How do you make technology education more appealing to students whose passions are art, design, fashion, medicine, or science? It's common knowledge that women are dramatically underrepresented in the field of technology. As recently as 2009, just 15 percent of enrolled students at IU Bloomington’s School of Informatics and Computing (SOIC) were women. Part of the problem is the perception that a technology degree offers limited career options, and graduates will spend their careers banging out code. Another problem is also the culture: tech companies and their employees can give off a competitive, high-testosterone vibe that many women find unwelcoming.
SOIC leaders have been aggressive in their efforts to recruit more women students. In 2010, it set a goal to double its undergraduate female enrollment within two years. To reach potential new recruits and position SOIC as a female-friendly environment, the school partnered with IU Communications to design a new recruitment campaign with a simple goal: to get women to enroll in a single informatics course – introducing them to the wide range of career options available with a technology degree and demonstrating that SOIC welcomed them with open arms.
Scope of work included:
- A direct mail piece to approximately 300 admitted IU students from local high schools
- Materials for guerilla marketing campaign to be carried out by current female students
- Slideshow presentation for recruiting events
To get a better understanding of our target audience, we began by reviewing current research on the consumer behavior of teenaged girls. We learned that while teen girls feel that their unique tastes define them as individuals, they also feel more comfortable as part of a tribe. So it was important to emphasize that an informatics or computer science degree could be customized to fit their personal interests but also bring them into a larger community of like-minded women.
Then we turned to current informatics and computing students to better understand their perceptions about their field. Maureen Biggers, assistant dean for diversity and education, recruited ten female students from the school’s graduate and undergraduate programs for a focus group. During a freewheeling, hour-long conversation, we learned more about what attracted these students to the program, what they liked (and didn’t like) about SOIC’s culture, how they felt about their status as "women in computing," and which skills they felt prospective students would need to be successful.
They helped us identify some key messages for the campaign:
- No prior experience is necessary – even in computer science
- Career options for graduates are much broader than tech support or programming – from fashion and design to healthcare and scientific research
- The School offers a close-knit and highly social atmosphere
- Students want to feel empowered as women, but not self-segregated
We also tested several preliminary brand positions with participants. Some were rejected as too consciously "girly." while others were too "geeky." Their most positive response came from the idea of "reclaiming" a place for women – a message that felt assertive, positive, and proactive to participants.
In almost all its communications, no matter the audience, the School of Informatics and Computing faces a huge challenge: prospective students and parents do not understand what informatics and computing are. Before we could convince our female target audience that the school offered a welcoming environment, we first had to define the field, show its applications to other fields of study, and give a clear idea of the the types of jobs available to informatics and computing graduates.
The school also had a very limited budget for the campaign, which meant materials had to be low-cost, targeted, and memorable.
Finally, while campaign materials had to appeal to a female audience, they could not be explicitly targeted toward women only. The reasons for this were both budgetary (recruitment brochures could be used for all prospective students) and philosophical (women told us they don't want to be singled out, just included).
Three audiences, three tactics. We began with the search for the right tagline – something empowering yet gender-neutral, youthful, and positive. "Own Your Awesome" communicated several messages simultaneously:
- Don't be afraid of studying technology – you can succeed
- A technology degree can fit with your interests
- You can be a "tech person" and still be artistic, trendsetting, and socially aware
Next, we came with three pieces targeting different audiences: current IU Bloomington students, graduating high school seniors, and parents of those seniors.
Because our student focus group told us that the SOIC community was a large part of their program’s appeal, we turned them into brand ambassadors borrowing a technique pioneered by Operation Beautiful: handwritten messages from current students on branded "Own Your Awesome" sticky notes. Students were encouraged to share personal observations about what made their degree programs a good fit, then leave the messages in locations where other female students might find them (bulletin boards, restrooms, coffee shops, bookstore shelves). A typical message might be, "Want to change the world? Go here." The campaign helped build community, generate on-campus buzz, and change the perception of informatics and computing as a male-dominated field.
To reach high school seniors, we created a graduation gift package of custom buttons with messages ranging from the more generic ("2010" and the IU logo) to the more targeted ("SOIC" and "Own Your Awesome.") These were mailed in a handcrafted, hand-addressed envelope that congratulated these recent graduates on their accomplishments.
Finally, we created a second mailing for parents using the same "Own Your Awesome" branding. The trifold brochure highlighted the more practical aspects of the degree: possible careers, salary ranges, hiring companies, and a reminder that previous computing experience is not a prerequisite for success. Recipients were directed to a custom URL to measure response.
In just 18 months, SOIC reached its goal of doubling female enrollment. In August 2011, 148 women declared majors in informatics or computer science. During that same period, the number of females enrolling in introductory courses increased 41 percent.
Maureen Biggers discussed the school's recruitment strategy and ongoing results in a video for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). She notes that the number of women with School of Informatics and Computing majors has increased 20 percent while 10 percent more men are choosing the program. "So we know we're doing something right," she says.
Development of the campaign took approximately four months. The total budget, including printing costs, was $5,000.
The School of Informatics and Computing owns its awesome. The campaign proved so successful that it was adapted by UC Santa Cruz to boost its own female enrollment in technology courses. "They love it and say thanks to us," Maureen Biggers notes. "They say we are their role model."
Further, Bobby Schnabel, Dean of the School of Informatics and Computing, was honored as a Champion of Change by President Obama in a White House Ceremony. The award recognized Schnabel's efforts to encourage women to consider careers in science and technology. "I am continually impressed by the commitment of so many people to ensuring that women and other underrepresented groups are provided the opportunity for full participation in identifying and obtaining rewarding careers in computing in particular, and more generally in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," says Schnabel. "I thank all of these people for their efforts, and Indiana University for its wonderful support of these initiatives."
Meanwhile, after the creative team presented the project at IU's annual marketing and communications conference, other programs have come to us for help with similar recruitment efforts.