More and more brands are breaking down the stigma surrounding issues of gender, and we only hope to see that increase in 2021. Awareness is growing, but now is the time to take what we know about gender diversity and inclusivity and put it into action. With gender-neutrality being a top priority for your Gen Z audience, you need to show support, address their concerns and resonate with their identity choices to ensure you’re really speaking your students’ language. 

And for those who think those glass ceilings have already been shattered, and stereotypes disassembled, research from Student Hut’s opinion panel shows that over a quarter of students feel their subject choice was impacted by gender stereotypes, while job roles such as nanny, nurse, firefighter and construction worker are still seen as highly gendered. Gender stereotypes are still out in force; are your advertising and communications messages adding to the weight? 

Why is it important to take a gender-neutral stance? 


Gender is complex, and branding needs to take that into account. Your Gen Z student audience finds affinity with brands that respect, and reflect on, their own views on gender. Sensitivity around the topic has seen heated debate, with cancel culture booming in recent years, such as the famous author J K Rowling being criticised for her controversial Tweets on the use of language around women. ​

Avoid getting cancelled by your students by showing sensitivity to their views around gender. Show your institution to be a progressive, forward-thinking, and welcoming university that has its students and their wellbeing at the heart of everything it does.

Especially in the education sector? 

Students want to see advertising that reflects themselves and the real people around them. Gone are the days of stereotypical colours, clothing rules and hobbies. Boys can dance and girls can play rugby... But, it’s more than that. Students want to explore cities and institutions where their creativity and freedom to be whatever they want to be is celebrated. And by consciously or unconsciously perpetuating gender stereotypes, you’re also closing off your institution, faculty and courses to a large proportion of your target audience. ​

male doctor

Our research shows that the majority of students think subjects like STEM and business studies are both ‘masculine’ and likely to lead to a highly-paid job. If your course-specific advertising only shows male students, telling their stories, are you alienating the many females who may want to take that path, or who are interested in a lucrative future career, but who have been deterred because it looks like it’s not for them? ​

In our Edurank Think Student awards last year, our student panel of 140,000 students voted University of Portsmouth and International College Portsmouth’s #MyStemJourney as the best Campaign Supporting Diversity, which was centred around the voices of diverse women, talking about their own STEM journeys, helping prospective students to identify and resonate with them. A nod that rebalancing the scales is a tick in most student’s books. 

So, where to start? We asked our creative team for their thoughts on gender-neutral branding and advertising and what you should consider doing for your 2021 campaigns to allow every type of student to see themselves at your institution: 

“Education is for everyone, regardless of gender, so it is important you represent this through your advertising. Making sure you have a diverse range of students within your campaigns may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it is often overlooked. When working with courses or societies that are ‘traditionally female or male’ - flip them on their heads and make them appeal to the gender spectrum. You can do this by selecting images that show a broad range of students and/or by experimenting with gender-neutral colours like yellow or green.”

Georgia Webb, Lead Creative

So, as you walk away with this food for thought, there’s one thing to be mindful of in your quest to connect and resonate with this progressive, and forward-thinking generation. Trying to connect to all, may lead to connecting to none. Be strategic in your targeting, specific in your comms, authentic in your intentions, and do this the right way. 

With that in mind, if you want to make your campaigns cut through and really talk the language of your students, get in touch today, and our creative team can work with you on creating real affinity with your student audience. 

And for more insight into students’ perceptions of current student advertising, and where it should be headed to encourage creativity, slash the stigma and boost recruitment, then you’ll want to catch up with our webinar and read our free whitepaper: Where are the students we see?

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Content Manager