5 Ways to Support Women in Higher Education through Marketing

5 Ways to Support Women in Higher Education through Marketing

Today’s women’s empowerment movement calls for us all to pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse world. In a previous role working with higher education clients, I learned that the challenges women face in the professional world can be traced back to their academic experiences. It's no surprise that colleges play an important role in shaping the way we look at women, so I decided to take a deeper dive into strategic and simply ways to recruit, retain and reward women from a marketing perspective at the academic level.

Highlight Women in Your Visuals

Representation matters. Students want to know they’ll fit in with your community whether that’s on campus, in the classroom or after graduation. It’s important for women to see themselves reflected in your marketing campaigns. Start with your creative assets:

  • Is there a gender balance in your brand visuals?

  • Are the women in those images representative of your student body?

  • Is there a range of age, ethnicity, professional level?

To help gauge this quota, create a checklist that your team can adhere to.  

Don’t have enough resources to create women-first creative? Invest in stock photos that showcase women across the gender spectrum that mirror your target audience. Here are 44 stock photos to get you started.

Rethink Campus Activities

Campus culture is the heart of any student’s college experience. Consider how your university’s values are reflected in campus activities like sororities, sports, performing arts, dances, even networking events. Ask questions, like:

  • What female sports teams exist? How does that compare to men's sports?

  • Do your campus organizations provide a safe and welcoming environment for women?

  • Are there enough activities that reflect well-rounded interests instead of conforming to gender stereotypes?

  • Is there a sense of female solidarity?

One powerful example of women-led college events is Brescia University College's annual International Day of the Girl event. Program Coordinator Madison Olson gave a speech on female leadership in front of students, sharing her story on becoming CEO and President of the SHINE Optimist Club of Canada (SHINECanada).

Madison Olson at International Day of the Girl event

Hire Female Talent

I hear you: resources are limited. Executing digital marketing campaigns that are creative and bold can be tough with a small team already working at capacity. This is a perfect opportunity to leverage female talent for projects that align with their own professional goals. Here's a few ideas:

  • Do you need more content creation efforts? Recruit women with a Journalism, Communications, Marketing, Creative Writing or equivalent major to develop editorial that can be quick, turn-key or scalable.

  • Want to produce videos for your campus website? Recruit women with Design, Broadcast, or Media/Multimedia degrees to manage shoots, editing and production.

  • Not sure how to use Snapchat for your social media campaign? Recruit women who are actively on the popular platform, sharing their personal college experience with friends and family.

Accomplished alumni are the perfect audience to engage on these content strategies. You’ll be able to develop strong, long-term relationships and they’ll have success stories to pass on. My alma mater, New Jersey’s Rider University, uses this strategy to tap alumni in building its Women’s Leadership Council mentorship network.

Recognize Gender Identities 

We are living in the most progressive era of human history. While there can certainly be a learning curve to understanding identity and gender shifts, being willing to learn and adapt is the first crucial step to supporting women across the gender spectrum.

When women’s colleges acknowledge that trans women are women, it sends a powerful message to everyone in this country that trans women should be treated just like any other woman.
— Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s transgender media program

Recognize that gender is not simply only identifying as male or female. Ask any diversity-focused student organization, LGBTQ+ or ally group on gender-inclusive language. Learn from Indianapolis’ Butler University as a prime example of laying the groundwork for ‘culture wellness’ as well. 

You can take this one step further: tweak your language and messaging across your communications workflow. For example, expand self-identified gender options in your surveys or data collection platforms.

Reframe Female Expectations

Last but not least, institutions must make sure that they are supporting women in the workplace after completing their education. As one Barnard College alum recalls, navigating the nuances of the workplace is a skill that higher ed leaders should discuss.

Barnard really created such a strong sense of self-worth but it left it up to us and up to me how to translate that sense of self worth into actual behavior once you start working full-time.
— Michelle Fa

There’s still work to be done. Has your college made strides in impacting and encouraging women? Share your story in the comments.

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