Whilst at school Kerrine Bryan excelled at maths and science, enjoying the problem-solving aspect of these subjects. However, when it came to choosing a career, she felt that the subjects she loved did not give her many options beyond the expected accountancy qualifications.
Luckily when she was 17 her maths teacher recommended she attend an engineering course which led to her having a successful career in the traditionally male dominated industry of engineering.
Her experiences as an engineer and her initial lack of understanding as to what career opportunities were available to her, led Kerrine to set up a social enterprise dedicated to challenging the gender stereotypes which hold back the dreams and aspirations of so many children.
Butterfly Books is a business which creates playful and thought-provoking stories that aim to transform the lives and minds of children and families. Set up by Kerrine with the help of her brother Jason, the educational books challenge stereotypes and perceptions encouraging an open-minded world for future generations.
“Remembering the misconceptions and lack of knowledge about engineering as a profession when I was at school, I decided to volunteer doing talks about my job across the country to children. It was then that I got the idea to develop a range of children’s books that could tackle some of these inherent misconceptions. I saw it as a good way of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues. It’s important both children and parents understand that these jobs are available and accessible to them – no matter what gender they are or what background they come from – and that the opportunity is there for the taking if they apply themselves, work hard and want it enough. The world is their oyster. “
Butterfly Books is all about changing perceptions around what jobs are for girls and which jobs are for boys and their books are written to help reduce gender bias in job roles. Through changing this one small aspect of a child’s education they look to inspire the next generation to look beyond gender stereotypes.
Their first published book was based on Kerrine’s own experiences and was called ‘My Mummy is an Engineer’. Subsequent publications have included ‘My Mummy is a Firefighter’, ‘My Mummy is a Footballer’ ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ and ‘My Daddy is a Nurse’ which was the first of their books to focus on young boys, challenging entrenched attitudes on masculinity.
Kerrine takes her stories into schools and so far around 7,000 copies of the books have been sold with the stories reaching approximately 15,000 children, addressing negative misconceptions and biases through colourful illustrations and rhyme.
Butterfly Books collaborates with major organisations, working with them to ensure that content is relevant and grounded in the lived experience of the people whose jobs are being written about. These have included the British Army, Nursing Now England, London Fire Brigade and Lewes Football Club (which was the first football club to pay men and women players equal salaries). Organisations are also using the books in their own outreach, with ‘My Mummy is a Firefighter being used by fire stations across the country.
Butterfly Books is built on the premise that representation matters. Key to the social enterprise’s philosophy is the importance of challenging gender stereotypes at a young age and Kerrine has noticed how opening up career options is not just about addressing skills gaps within industries but also how a failure to make industries more diverse is detrimental to society as a whole:
“When we started out is was specifically about addressing skills gaps issues at the grassroots. For example in engineering there is a lack of skills, but the industry loses out on potential engineers just because many women don’t consider engineering as a career option. However, the importance runs deeper and goes down to a personal level.
For a more inclusive world we need inclusive workforces, that represents the community they serve. Using examples in technology, we’ve seen how crash dummies have been designed on the average weight and build of a man, with major implications on the safety of women. There are plenty more examples in various industries of how a lack of diversity can have negative impacts.
Children should not have their ambitions limited because of gender or any other characteristic, and I’ve seen first-hand how theses biases and misconceptions start at a very young age. If these unnecessary biases were removed, the journey to a more inclusive world would be much easier, which is extremely important as we work on new challenges that the planet faces.”
Butterfly Book’s desire to break down stereotypes and promote a world of diversity and representation is an example of the ambitions of many social enterprises to build an economy based on principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice.
Whilst, as in all parts of the economy, more work needs to be done to support social enterprises led by women and people from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds the sector is ahead of the pack when it comes to both diverse leadership and opening up opportunities for marginalised groups. 47% of social enterprises are led by women, much higher than other businesses and 14% have leaders from racialised communities (a stat slightly higher than that for small businesses which stands at 13%). 11% of social enterprises are led by someone with a disability.
Social enterprises are vital to building a truly inclusive economy and businesses like Butterfly Books are playing their part in breaking down barriers, changing attitudes and inspiring the entrepreneurs, and the engineers, of the future.
You can buy Butterfly Books through their website and also on the eBay for Change Platform
By Shehan Perera – Content Manager at Social Enterprise UK