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Writing better books for our children: Smashing gender stereotypes in careers one profession at a time – Kerrine Bryan, Engineer and Founder of Butterfly Books

Kerrine Bryan - My Mummy is an Engineer book

Kerrine Bryan is an engineer working within the energy industry. In order to challenge gender stereotypes in various professions, Kerrine set up her own publishing company, Butterfly Books, producing titles including My Mummy is an Engineer, My Mummy is a Plumber and My Daddy is a Nurse. Kerrine is also a volunteer with the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Social Justice Engineering Initiative.

Kerrine Bryan
Kerrine Bryan

“My eldest daughter is only three and although I actively try to address negative stereotypes that I might see or hear in the media, I still hear her say things like “girls can’t do that” or “that’s only for boys”. This is something that most parents experience, but you always want your children to not limit their ambitions by believing in these misconceptions.”

Exciting updates on my career

When we last spoke in 2016 I was pregnant with my first daughter and had relocated to New York, USA.

I still live there and now work for WSP USA, a global engineering and professional services consultancy. Based in New York, my role is a mixture of technical, project management and business development work.

Currently, I’m working on some exciting power generation and delivery projects, although I’ve had to learn about US technical codes and standards for electrical engineering, which is very different to the British Standards I was used to.

I’ve really enjoyed working on projects that focus on energy saving and also renewable energy. I’ve since become a board member of the Social Justice Engineering Initiative (SJEI), which aims to bridge resources with innovation and to engineer solutions that target the meaningful involvement of people for the common good.

I’ve been more involved with the Institution of Engineering Technology (IET) as the secretary for the New England Network (covering eight states in the US). All of this recent and new experience has helped me develop technical, leadership and executive skills.

Kerrine-and-Jason-Bryan-at-Butterfly-Book-launch
Kerrine and her brother, Jason, at the launch of My Mummy is a Soldier

On top of this, I am still running Butterfly Books with my brother, Jason Bryan, and we now have seven titles published in total.

I also had my second daughter in November 2019, so things are very busy!

Ending gender stereotypes through reading

We’ve published four more titles and the journey in publishing them has been great. The team has really immersed themselves in the research behind each story to ensure that the narratives are true to life and address real-life issues and misconceptions.

Since 2016, we were approached by the British Army to collaborate on My Mummy is a Soldier. We visited various army locations and had a focus group with female officers. It was great to be working with people who were as passionate as us about addressing biases at the grassroots.

The launch was a huge success with key Army representatives attending and speaking at the launch, and a local primary school attended for the book reading.

There are so many different professions within the army, so this was an opportunity to showcase the variety of exciting roles available in the organisation – from vets to bomb disposable experts.

We were then contacted by Nursing Now England and the London Fire Brigade to collaborate on producing My Daddy is a Nurse and My Mummy is a Firefighter respectively – both launched in the early quarter of 2020.

Again, having the support and backing of those working in these fields determined to make change happen is very motivating and encourages us to continue to do the work we do.

Our first My Daddy Is… book

When we first started Butterfly Books back in 2015, we spoke with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills who had highlighted that, along with STEM professions that lacked female representation, there were not enough men in nursing and care work.

Producing a My Daddy Is… title had been on our radar for a while, but we were waiting for the right time to do this. 2020 is The Year of the Nurse, and this was a fitting time to launch My Daddy Is A Nurse. It also complimented a huge NHS advertising recruitment campaign to encourage more young men into the profession.

Obviously, we did not, at the time, foresee the COVID-19 pandemic occurring. However, nurses have played an absolutely vital role in the fight and management of this illness. For a long time, nurses have been unsung heroes. They’re now getting more profiling and appreciation, but gender diversity in the profession is still very much a work in progress.

No more ‘firemen’

Around 300 out of London’s 5,000 firefighters are women; this constitutes just 7%. This gaping gender disparity has been something that the London Fire Brigade have been working to address, with campaigns such as its #firefightingsexism campaign – aimed at attracting more women to the fire service and challenging the outdated stereotype that only men can be firefighters.

They’ve also worked hard to address vocabulary that reinforces gender stereotypes. “Fireman” indicates that only men can do the job of a firefighter, and they’ve been at the forefront of debates relating to how children’s programmes like Fireman Sam actually reinforce gendered misconceptions at the earliest of ages.

This resonates very deeply with what we do at Butterfly Books – ensuring that children don’t limit their ambitions and dreams because they think they’re the wrong sex.

Kerrine-Bryan-at-the-launch-of-My-Mummy-is-a-SoldierMuch like the narrative of My Mummy is a Soldier, it was important that we communicated how modern firefighting is much more than just putting out fires. It’s a varied role and there are many career paths that can be pursued within the organisation – great for those who like to work with people and communities and not be tethered to a desk on a day to day basis.

The motivation my daughters give me

I definitely have my hands full raising two girls, working as an engineer and voluntary duties on top. Dealing with the challenges presented by COVID-19 has not made navigating this easy. My husband is very supportive and, of course, that’s a great help.

My eldest is now 3-years-old and as I see her learning and absorbing everything around her. It motivates me to do what I can to make sure she has fair opportunities in life to reach her goals.

Although the books are focused on gender, I can use these as a platform to address other issues, such as race, where there is also a disparity in representation across many professions.

My daughter is already asking questions about difference, given that friends at pre-school have been asking why she has brown skin. Making sure that we show diverse characters in our books, in every sense, is important for all children to see. We’re even more aware of this now, and we make sure that this is reflected in the stories and illustrations.

My eldest continues to inspire me in the creative process. She sometimes picks out books she’d like me to read and is very curious – always asking questions. This gives me ideas to consider for future books.

The importance of these books for parents

As parents, it can be difficult to see how easily children are influenced and can build up misconceptions about jobs and roles from a young age.

Kerrine-BryanMy eldest daughter is only three and although I actively try to address negative stereotypes that I might see or hear in the media, I still hear her say things like “girls can’t do that” or “that’s only for boys”. This is something that most parents experience, but you always want your children to not limit their ambitions by believing in these misconceptions.

Allowing educators to create virtual readings at no charge

At the start of the pandemic, many parents were suddenly put in a difficult position of trying to continue to work remotely from home whilst schooling their children. In addition, teachers had to find innovative ways to teach their students remotely.

This put a lot of pressure on parents and children, and I felt that we were in a position to help with the situation in some way. We worked to ensure that educators could share our books with students, and we created a mini-series with activities for children to watch and carry out at home.

We also put together a set of informational videos about the roles that the Butterfly Books team does. Book readings conducted by real-life characters that inspired the stories ensured that those narratives were brought to life, creating more engagement and making it more relatable.

Our next book

We are really excited about our next book, My Mummy is a Footballer. We’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some of the UK’s top players from various women’s teams and are currently working on a crowdfunding campaign for the book and are actively looking for collaboration partners. It’s a bit of a change from our previous books and its looking good so far!

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kerrine-bryan-p-e-399baaa/

https://twitter.com/kerrinebryan

https://www.butterflybooks.uk/

https://twitter.com/butterflybooks

https://www.linkedin.com/company/butterfly-books-limited/

Books are available via Amazon.

My Mummy is a Soldier
Illustration © Marissa Peguinho
My Daddy is a Nurse
Illustration © Marissa Peguinho
My Mummy is a Firefighter
Illustration © Marissa Peguinho