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Throwing the storybook at gender bias

Throwing the storybook at gender bias
As a high-flying engineer, Kerrine Bryan despaired of the stereotypes in her daughter’s picture books. 
It seemed that straight from birth, little Skye was being indoctrinated with the message that girls don’t climb quite as high as boys. The evidence was right there on the colourful pages; doctors were male, nurses female, and while dads worked for a living, mums stayed at home. 
Never one to shirk a challenge, Kerrine decided to do something about it, and so Butterfly Books was born. 
The mum-of-one from Pinner, says: “My self-published books are educational and aimed at children. I want to encourage more youngsters, girls and boys, to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects for their careers. There are three titles so far: My Mummy Is An Engineer, My Mummy Is A Scientist and My Mummy Is A Plumber. I’ve got two more in the pipeline, including My Daddy Is A Nurse. Tackling the gender bias just isn’t commonly done in children’s books.” 
Kerrine is thankful her 12-year career in the oil and gas industry hasn’t been blighted with sexism - something she puts down to the values of the organisation she works for. 
However, when she was first starting out, she did experience the sexist machismo that has traditionally put many women off professions like engineering. 
Kerrine says: “When I did my year in industry as a teenager, I began a placement with a steel manufacturing company. One of the workers commented that I looked ‘sexy in overalls’. I had the confidence to report it and was immediately placed with another company. The sad thing is that many women may not have felt comfortable acknowledging or reporting this type of behaviour.”
While attitudes are changing, Kerrine believes there is still a long way to go. When visiting schools she sometimes hears depressingly familiar stories from girls who want to forge STEM careers. 
She says: “There are many misconceptions about engineers wearing hard hats and working on building sites. On school visits I make sure to show that I wear a dress to my office job and a hardhat when I’m on-site to see my designs are being implemented properly. What you hear in classroom can be shocking. Girls tell me, ‘The boys in my class say I could never be an engineer.’ This has to change.” 
Now Kerrine has entered Butterfly Books in VOOM 2018, the UK and Ireland’s biggest pitch competition. New partners joining organisers Virgin Media Business this year include Crowdcube, G by Grant Thornton, PayPal, PwC and Virgin Money. Entrants can win a share of the £1m prize pot for their firms, and finalists will pitch to Virgin boss Richard Branson and a panel of business superstars on 23 May. 
She says: “I run the business with my brother, Jason Bryan, who works in finance. Although we sell through Amazon, Waterstones online and our own website, it can be challenging when you are self-published. After hearing about VOOM 2018 on social media, I knew I had to enter. The potential for Butterfly Books to scale is huge, and there are many professions we could create titles for. Hopefully the competition will help with raising our profile, as well as defining strategy and direction.” 
Like most working mums, Kerrine enjoys the challenging of juggling raising 14-month-old Skye along with her writing and engineering careers. 
She says: “I just hope Skye will be exposed to all the options available to her when it comes to choosing a profession, and not be limited by the gender bias that has prevailed for so long.”
If you’d like to enter your firm in Voom Pitch, register now at www.virginmediabusiness.co.uk/voom.



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