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The company was launched to address the diversity and gender imbalance in careers, particularly in industries like STEM.
Jason Bryan (pictured above) is an author and the co-founder of indie publishing house Butterfly Books. Together with his sister, they produce children’s picture books (for age seven and below) in order to address sexist misconceptions about jobs. Their books include My Daddy is a Nurse and My Mummy is a Firefighter. We asked Jason about his life and the company.
It was my sister, Kerrine Bryan, an engineer and STEM ambassador, who came up with the concept of setting up an independent publisher of children’s books with the aim of re-writing the narratives told to children about what constitutes ‘a man’s job’ and ‘a woman’s job’. She has made quite a name for herself in promoting gender diversity in careers, especially STEM industries.
Admittedly, I never really considered some of the challenges that Kerrine faced and negotiated as a black working class woman entering the very white and male dominated field of engineering. Not to excuse male bias, but I guess the relative ‘ease’ with which men can enter an all-male boardroom or be on a site with all male workers, can make this obliviousness all too easy.
Kerrine explained that a lot of students she spoke to at schools already had established misconceptions about the ‘appropriate’ jobs for males and females. She therefore imagined a range of children’s books that could tackle some of these very misconceptions, communicating positive messages about different careers and underscoring that these jobs are available and accessible to them no matter what gender they are or what background they come from – so long as they apply themselves, work hard and want it enough.
At that time, Kerrine didn’t have children, but I did. And given that I already had experience in songwriting and poetry, given my passion for music, she asked if I could help develop My Mummy Is An Engineer – the first of many books that we would co-write and co-produce together over the coming years.
Flexible working has its pros and cons. Due to the nature of our work with Butterfly Books, a lot of it can be done remotely, with heavy use of platforms such as Teams or Zoom. We’ve had to navigate different locations and time zones with our team members in different places, but technology has allowed us to work both effectively and flexibly. Communication is key in getting the best outcome in relation to our projects so it’s important that we’re able to talk amongst the team and external professionals in varying industries to ensure that our content remains accurate.
We have had to improvise with YouTube and Instagram book launches rather than face to face book readings or large social events because of the pandemic, but as is it becoming the way of the world we have adapted accordingly. We generally sell our titles online so post-production hasn’t seen much of a change; the biggest areas of change relate to the way we launch our books at physical events as well as building our titles with external entities.
When My Mummy Is An Engineer was first released, I knew the idea itself was amazing but I had no idea how far we could take things. A few years later, we have since collaborated with the British Army, Nursing Now England / NHS, the London Fire Brigade, the National Farmers Union and plumbers to produce everything from My Mummy Is A Soldier to My Daddy Is A Nurse.
A lot of our creative work is about recasting vocabulary and labels too. As a parent to two girls, and as a writer, I have come to fully appreciate how unhelpful titles like ‘fireman’ and ‘matron’ are at dismantling sexist stereotypes. Hearing about the real life stories and challenges faced by some of these professionals is quite sobering. For example, the ‘muse’ of our book, My Daddy Is A Nurse – Peter Towns, Associate Director of Nursing – described many instances where patients, friends and colleagues have questioned his intelligence and sexuality, simply for pursuing a career in nursing.
With a greater appreciation for the jobs that nurses do – not least in light of this COVID-19 pandemic – as well as a stellar advertising campaign spearheaded by the NHS to encourage young male recruits, we’re hopeful that these perceptions are shifting.
The real joy I get from working on these books is the idea that, however small, we are – in some way – actually making a positive change. Whenever I see and feel the end product – the fruit of our labours – it becomes clear that this may impact a young child’s life for the better. The feeling of its potential makes all of this so rewarding.
As a father to two school-aged girls, I am ever more conscious about the quality of the books they read at school and at home in shaping their world views, dreams and aspirations. I do find KS1/KS2 books reinforce subtle gendered roles. With the Oxford Reading Tree scheme, you tend to find ‘Dad’ always rattling about in the shed fixing things and ‘Mum’ in the kitchen. I appreciate that this was probably not the intention, just a reflection of the times in which they were created. It does signify though that things need to change.
We need to see children’s stories with characters and protagonists outside of the usual stereotypes. I’m hopeful that, in the future, this will become much more common place.
Firstly, the grants available (if applicable) are a huge asset to those with start-ups. Where I think the government could do more, specifically to the nature of our business, is to facilitate a link between businesses and the government led education departments. This could help facilitate our titles being more heavily included within the curriculum if suitable. I also think a stance should be taken on social enterprises as we sit between a standard business and a charity, so in relation to taxation this should be taken into consideration and dealt with as the individual entity that it is.
The transition has been steady, with the company starting in 2015. We are currently in a position of growth, but this really hasn’t happened overnight. The key is consistency. It isn’t always easy to keep creating content and driving a message when the notoriety doesn’t accompany it. Consistency is the main catalyst for this growth. Belief is also important; you have to be your own biggest supporter especially on the earliest stages of the business, because if you’re not convinced about your product or service then it will be hard for others to buy into your mission.
It’s also important to understand that your path will be different to everybody else’s. I have been fortunate enough to meet other entrepreneurs from various industries, and they have all experienced significant growth at varying times, some quite early on in their journey. It is important to obtain inspiration from peers rather than be disheartened by their progress, even if it eclipses yours at that point.