Kerrine Bryan is a children’s author, founder of publishing house Butterfly Books, which produces stories that endeavour to tackle diversity issues across industries from the grassroots, and is an award-winning chartered electrical engineer. Cited as one of the Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering, she scooped the Precious award for Outstanding Woman In STEM and was one of Management Today’s 35 Under 35 most notable businesswomen in the UK.
My grandparents moved to England from Jamaica in the 50’s – part of the Windrush Generation. They settled here, worked hard and had seven children – including my mother. I was born and bred in Birmingham. Being one of the very few black children in school, my mother always told me that I would need to work twice as hard to get half the success of my friends. This thought has been with me throughout my entire life and has pushed me to always give a little bit extra at school and at work and to be the best that I can be.
I’m a chartered electrical engineer. I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for 12 years in London, after which I took a 2-year career break to have my daughter.
Engineering definitely wasn’t something I dreamt about doing as a small child. I never knew such a job existed or was available to someone like me, even as I grew older and was choosing my A-Levels. I loved maths but I wasn’t fond of English. I recall my mother coming home from parents evening once, where she’d asked the teacher what measures could be taken to improve my potential GCSE English grade. The teacher replied, “Nothing”. I’m pretty sure that was what put me off English and reading in general. I lost hope. “I bet they wouldn’t tell the other kids that,” I remembered my mother saying, inferring that perhaps the colour of my skin might have had something to do with my teacher’s defeatist attitude.
Because I loved maths, I thought accountancy would be the best professional fit for me. Only, at aged 17, when a teacher suggested I attend a programme at a university introducing students to different types of engineering did I really become interested in this.
My career started after finishing a 4-year Master’s degree in electronic and electrical engineering with language. Although there were very few women engineers around, I think I was quite lucky. My male peers were very supportive and many had commented on how they respected professional female engineers more for making it through all of the barriers that existed, and still do exist, for women entering STEM careers. Only during a placement at a manufacturing company when I was 18 did I have an uncomfortable situation where my manager said that I looked “sexy in overalls”.
Volunteering at schools to talk about engineering, I realised how misconceptions around careers were formed at a young age. This led me to start up an independent publishing house to produce books targeting children, especially girls, aged 4 to 7 years old, that show how they can be anything they want to be – engineer, firefighter, scientist or plumber – irrespective of their gender. It’s important that this is communicated to children early enough before these gender norms become too established.
The business is a side hustle, but it’s a social enterprise I’m fiercely passionate about. I work on it on evenings, weekends and even on the commute to work. My brother, Jason Bryan – who is co-founder – and I are determined to make the venture becomes a global success. But the possibility of seeding a passion and inspiring a child to pursue a dream into adulthood is more than enough of a motivation for us. We also hope to have a positive contribution to subverting misconceptions that positively impact on equality and diversity, particularly in STEM industries too.