Young people (especially women and people of color) don’t see themselves as future coders and engineers. Many don’t have access to, let alone interest in, computer science and STEM education opportunities. Until we change the conversation (and the stereotypes that all people in tech are white men in hoodies), it will be an uphill battle to increase diversity in technology careers.
We knew for Microsoft’s YouthSpark to be successful at engaging young women and young people from underserved communities, it would have to break from the standard notions of what it means to make computer science relatable. Young people don’t view relatability as merely about who they are demographically, rather it’s about what they’re capable of. But we also couldn’t make this about their future selves as adults 20+ years from now. We needed to make coding and tech relevant to their everyday lives, make it about discovering themselves and their passions.
After fielding original research in multiple countries to identify optimal messaging for marketing STEM to young people, we built Microsoft YouthSpark’s new communications narrative and applied this messaging platform to their outreach materials – from Hour of Code to DigiGirlz. We also created its created the “Everyone Starts Somewhere” campaign and recruited top YouTube influencers Fine Brothers and iJustine to promote its outreach initiatives, like Hour of Code. Finally, we developed an advocacy platform to amplify young people’s requests for STEM education in their schools, in their communities, and nationally.
Our outreach materials have been used in 50 countries and 20 different languages connecting with millions of young people who have opened their minds to the possibilities of computer science. And the advocacy toolkit is among the most downloaded item on YouthSpark’s site.