Award-winning black female engineer Kerrine Bryan – who 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 – is launching her latest children’s book, My Mummy is a Farmer, as part of a campaign to tackle gender diversity issues and misconceptions about STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at grassroots level.
The book, released this summer 2018, is the fourth in a series authored by Bryan, which includes My Mummy is a Scientist, My Mummy is a Plumber and My Mummy is an Engineer.
The accidental engineer
A third-generation Jamaican (Bryan’s grandparents moved to England in the ’50s – part of the Windrush generation) and brought up in Birmingham, Bryan said: “Being one of very few black children in my 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 I can be.”
Bryan fell into engineering by accident, having always been advised (by teachers and career advisors) that accountancy was the best job for someone like her who loved and was adept at maths. Pursuing engineering was only considered an option when, during A-levels, Bryan’s maths teacher suggested she try out an engineering residential at Glamorgan University (Headstart Scheme), which is now run by the Engineering Trust. She enjoyed it so much that, after a year’s experience in the industry, she decided to shelve any plans for becoming an accountant in order to pursue a degree in engineering. Bryan has now been in the industry for 15 years, kick-starting her career at a large oil and gas contractor on a graduate scheme directly after completing a four-year Master’s degree in electronic engineering with German.
“Sexy in overalls”
Speaking of her experiences working in STEM, Bryan comments: “Although there were very few women engineers around, I think I was quite ‘lucky’. It feels a bit awkward to say that, but it’s a prime indicator of the times we are currently living in. There is still a lot of work to be done to stamp out bias and prejudice in the workplace. My male peers and colleagues were very supportive and encouraging of me being part of the engineering team. Many of them, in fact, had commented on how they really respected professional female engineers more for making it through all of the barriers that existed, and still do exist, for women going into STEM careers. It was only during a placement at a manufacturing company when I was 18 that I had an uncomfortable situation where my manager and mentor said that I looked ‘sexy in overalls’.”
Transformation and enterprise
Remembering her experiences at school, Bryan decided to volunteer doing talks about her job across the country to children. It was then that she got the idea to develop a range of children’s books that could tackle some of these inherent misconceptions about the profession, which begin from a very early age.
“Picture books and rhyme are a brilliant way of communicating to children a positive message about all kinds of professions, especially STEM careers that are suffering skill gaps and diversity issues,” said Bryan. “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.”
Bryan became a mother to a little girl in 2016. Commenting on the kind of future she envisages for her daughter as well as children of her generation and beyond, Bryan said: “By the time she enters the working world, I am confident that industries currently lacking diversity on every level, will be fewer than today. Progress is being made, but I don’t think the job will ever be finished. It takes a persistent combination of education and experience to bring down barriers and dismantle antiquated systems of working that cause inequality and bias. My advice to any young and aspiring would-be engineers and scientists, technicians and mathematicians is to remain strong-willed, curious and proactive. If you do, you’ll be able to take positive steps forward to succeed in an exciting career that can solve genuine human problems, innovate and change the world for the better.”
Bryan’s vision for Butterfly Books is that the stories become a helpful teaching resource that will enable children to see the opportunities available to them and eventually help close skills gaps and reduce gender bias in professions.
My Mummy is a Farmer (Butterfly Books), RRP £6.99, is available to buy from August 2018 and complements the existing books in the range: My Mummy is a Scientist, My Mummy is an Engineer and My Mummy is a Plumber at www.butterflybooks.uk