Girls In STEM: Maintaining the Dialogue

Category B02. Public Affairs & Lobbying
TitleGirls In STEM: Maintaining the Dialogue
Idea Creation 2 KRC Cologne, GERMANY
Name Company Position
Julian Lambertin KRC Head of Strategy & Analytics
Stephanie Johnston Creation Director
Marta Saez Creation Associate Director
Brian Tjugum Creation MD, Social Impact
Sophie Easterby-Smith Creation Account Director
David Dunn Creation Account Director

Why is this work relevant for PR?

Microsoft Europe’s campaign to define and identify the root issues behind the imbalance of women pursuing STEM-based careers. Insights uncovered have been the catalyst to drive debate with European industry and policy leaders on why and when young women lose interest in STEM, and are being used to inform programmes and investments that will lead to long term positive change. It’s a big ask: we are on a mission to change the aspirations of a generation of young women, but in a world of social media serotonin hits and clicktivism we believe that this long view matters more than ever.


At Microsoft, a diverse workforce and robust talent pipeline are critical to the health of our business, however diversity demographics demonstrated that the number of women we employed had declined. The European Commission says Europe could face a shortage of up to 900,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020, however in OECD countries, less than 1 in 5 computer science graduates is female. Crucially, lack of diversity in technology is not just a Microsoft problem: it stymies growth of the whole industry. While a lot of noise has been made about improving the situation, there have not been enough tangible insights to facilitate real change. For these reasons, our objective was to accelerate policy and industry discussions and influence decision-making to help ensure more young women in the 11-30 year old age bracket are kept engaged and go on to pursue science and technology in their future careers.

Describe the creative idea

We wanted to understand two things: the age girls disengage from STEM subjects; and the root issues as to why. Despite a huge volume of published research, no one could authoritatively answer those questions and consequently, the lack of a shared, baseline understanding was impeding effective action at policy and corporate level. So, we dug deep into the views of 11,500 girls in 12 European countries to gather benchmark data on attitudes to and interest in STEM. Working with LSE, we conducted focus groups in nine European countries and produced a quantitative survey that was used in Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and the UK. The output – which has informed subsequent discussions with policy makers, educator and business leaders - was a first-of-its-kind, scientifically rigorous study to statistically prove the key drivers influencing girls’ interest in studying STEM and pursuing related careers.

Describe the strategy

To catalyse action and engage critical stakeholder communities, we set out to squeeze the pips from our study through three distinct phases of PR and marketing support. Findings were published in two separate whitepapers with actionable recommendations aimed at policymakers, educators and business leaders. A pan-regional integrated communications campaign leveraged earned, owned, social and digital channels for launch activity in 12 European countries. Phase two provoked further debate by bringing to the fore the need for greater creativity in STEM education in addressing the skills gap among young women; and a high profile speaker event in Brussels and local support in 19 other countries for our third phase highlighted the importance of female role models in inspiring long term STEM engagement by young women. Through careful phasing, we have maintained dialogue and built significant momentum.

Describe the execution

Phase One (December 2016 to May 2017) saw the findings published in a detailed whitepaper with actionable recommendations for policy makers, educator and business leaders. A pan-European integrated communications campaign made use of customized content and story angles for local context and delivered 23 in-market events. Phase Two (October 2017), saw our second whitepaper published, this time looking into the critical role of harnessing creativity in attracting more young women to engage with STEM, opening the door to debate around how to better teach STEM subjects to girls at critical age points. Most recently, we highlighted the importance of female role models. A Microsoft-hosted event (“Changing the Face of STEM”) in Brussels in April 2018, brought together educators, policymakers and NGOs and female entrepreneurs; and across Europe, 26 events in 19 countries engaged students, teachers, policy makers and members of the wider developer and business community to continue the debate.

List the results

Through phase 1, we reached over one billion people through earned media across Europe, including major international titles such as the FT, CNN and BBC. The CNN article was shared over 13,000 times on Facebook. We presented to UNESCO, the Council of Europe and EU Code Week Ambassadors (among others), and politicians in Ireland, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland, Russia and Slovakia used the findings to inform discussion according to each country’s education priorities. Live-tweeting of the Changing the Face of STEM event saw #makewhatsnext trend in Brussels, and although earned was not a key objective, generated headlines such as “Role models vital for girls in tech, Microsoft research finds” (Irish Times). The real success though came from facilitating top level discussions with action groups that otherwise wouldn’t have been brought together to the table. This campaign continues to inform our programs and investments, opening the door to a brighter, more innovative future for young women in the technology industry. As an example, we are now tailoring programs in partnership with non-profits in Europe, including modifying training camps and mentoring sessions for girls in more than 15 countries to increase their impact. The findings have certainly been the proof needed for government departments, agencies and their partners to start formulating policies – but the most humbling of all are the conversations we have had with thousands of girls who tell us they feel truly excited about the opportunities that studying STEM could open for them.