Chartered electrical engineer Kerrine, a former recipient of the Precious Award for Outstanding Woman in STEM, is endeavouring to tackle gender diversity issues and misconceptions about STEM jobs at grassroots level, through her independent publishing house, Butterfly Books, which communicates a positive message about the professions to young children. Kerrine is mum to 19-month-old Skye.
Q) How did you end up following this particular career path?
Engineering wasn’t something I dreamt about doing as a small child. I loved maths, so when I started A Levels, I was sure I wanted to pursue accountancy. Actually, I wasn’t really aware of any other jobs that I could do or would want to do. I don’t think I ever gave much thought at school to how and what I was learning would eventually be relevant to a job or profession I’d pursue in the outside world.It was my maths teacher who suggested I try out an engineering residential at University of Glamorgan (Headstart Scheme), which is now run by the Engineering Trust. I enjoyed it so much that, after a year’s experience in the industry, I shelved any plans I had for becoming an accountant in order to pursue a degree in engineering.
Q) What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about engineering and women in the industry?
I found out, very early on, that there are many misconceptions about engineering that starts from a really early age. That prevents many children, especially young girls, from even thinking that engineering could be a job they can pursue one day. I came to realise that if youngsters don’t see people who look like them doing a certain job, then they are less likely to go for that job. That might seem like a crude simplification of a larger problem, but it’s certainly a contributing factor to the engineering sector’s diversity issue.
Q) You are an avid STEM Ambassador in education. Why?
I believe invoking positive changes in STEM industries starts at grassroots level. It begins with schools linking subjects that are being taught with real jobs in society. This could be enhanced by getting more role models, especially STEM ambassadors who are female or from BAME backgrounds into schools to talk about their work. In turn, this could debunk any misconceptions children might have that they can’t do such a job because they’re black, or disadvantaged or female. It’s a small but positive step in ‘normalising’ the idea of STEM jobs to children, especially BAME pupils and young girls. If they harbour an interest to work in careers that can solve genuine human problems, innovate and change the world for the better, schools and parents must do everything they can to support and nurture such aspirations.
Q) Would you encourage your daughter to pursue a career in engineering and do you believe the workplace will be more balanced by the time she is leaving school?
Being a parent to my young daughter has really enhanced my sense of purpose in wanting to leave a positive and lasting legacy, not just for her – but also for all children of her generation and for future generations to come. 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.
Q) What was the inspiration for your children’s picture books and why did you set up an independent publishing house?
I got the idea to develop a range of children’s books that could tackle some of the inherent misconceptions about engineering I faced. 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.
I didn’t start the books for a while after having the initial idea. It was when a close friend lost her battle with cancer that I thought, “I have to do this thing. I’ve wanted to do this for years. No more excuses.” With my younger brother Jason supporting me, we set up Butterfly Books. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation and enterprise, and we felt that it perfectly encapsulated the venture’s core purpose. The ultimate vision is to create books that cover all careers that are suffering skills gaps, gender (and any other) bias issues and perception issues. I hope that they will be used as a teaching resource so that as many children as possible are exposed to the books, showing them all the wonderful opportunities available to them.
My Mummy Is A Farmer RRP £6.99, is available now and complements the existing books in the range: My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer and My Mummy Is A Plumber. Find at butterflybooks.uk