Three things about Kerrine: she’s a STEM ambassador, an engineer and a pioneering author. Kerrine started working in the oil and gas industry ten years ago as a graduate electrical engineer and has since worked on various onshore and offshore projects around the world. By 2009 she had become one of her firm’s youngest lead electrical engineers, responsible for all aspects of electrical design as well as project planning and manpower forecasting. In 2014 she was listed by Management Today Magazine and The Sunday Times as one of the UK’s Top 35 Women in Business under the age of 35 and in 2015 she won the PRECIOUS award for Outstanding Woman in STEM – which is where we met and bonded. She is also the co-author and publisher of a range of innovative children’s books.
Here’s what we discussed.
One teacher can change your life. I always enjoyed maths and science and I thought that I would be an accountant, like my mum, and as recommended by the careers team. I studied statistics, German and economics at ‘A’ level, but it was my statistics teacher who recommended engineering as a career idea. Because I didn’t have the right ‘A’ levels, I did a foundation course and a year in industry, before going to university and completing a four year M.Eng degree in Engineering. So it wasn’t the most direct of routes.
I became a STEM ambassador in part because of winning the 35 under 35 award in 2014. Through that, I started going to conferences on women in business, where I met other women who had career based role models – but for me, it was just luck that I got into engineering, because of that one teacher. I also saw, through my work, that there was and is a huge skills gap; we have a real lack of graduates with the right skills. There are lots of people, not just women and girls, who just have no idea as to what engineering is. So I found out about the STEM ambassador scheme, went through their training and now, using annual leave from work to make my visits, I go schools, colleges or universities as often as I can talk to students aged 15-18. Girls say that I don’t look like an engineer (I wear dresses for work) and want to know if I ever get unhelpful comments made by male colleagues – but I honestly haven’t really had bad experiences, even when I’ve worked on site.
During my school visits, I started to notice that children were not well informed about their career options – a bit like me at the same age, their ideas are limited to what they see. I used to walk past a children’s publishing house every day on my way to work and think I’d like to write a children’s book, one day. At the conferences I attended, I learned more about the glass ceiling but I also met women who had followed their passions and taken a chance – they really gave me the motivation to try out my ideas for a career based book for children.
‘My Mummy is an Engineer’ is the first book in our series of career themed books which we self-publish, through Butterfly Books. I’m obviously quite technical but my brother Jason studied English at university and so we agreed to partner on this. He has a daughter, now aged 7 and she was our first reader. We co-authored the books and found our illustrator, Marissa.
We decided to self-publish so that we had control over depicting the reality of life in different careers. We researched traditional publishing channels and discovered that you submit your story and the publishing house find an illustrator. But we wanted to ensure that the illustrations really do look like real life in engineering and to make sure that they mirror the reality of working as an engineer.
Our books are technically correct; we’ve worked with the relevant industry institutions to understand the technical specifics and what issues they face, as well as correcting any industry misconceptions. For example, WaterSafe helped us understand small technical points in ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’, showing her wearing different clothes for dirty water and clean water plumbing tasks.
Our goal with the books is to change perceptions: by raising awareness of careers from a young age and improving diversity in the professions. The books are aimed at both boys and girls, in order to try and remove stereotypes and challenge people’s ideas about careers and who does what type of job or role.
Our next book will be ‘My Mummy is a Scientist’. We’re working on it at the moment and it’s due out in April. The next book after that might be something like ‘My Daddy is a Nurse’, based on recent research which has identified a need for more male workers in such professions. Some roles are perceived as being very female, just as many are very male. Stereotypes work both ways.
In my downtime, I’m passionate about dance! I love samba and Latin and I go ballroom dancing with my husband; I was also a volunteer dancer in the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony. I really believe my discipline and drive is enhanced by my love of Taekwondo, in which I’m a First Dan black belt. But at the moment, Butterfly Books is my priority, so I’m very focused on that.
Sponsors: would you like me to interview and profile some of the key women in your organisation? If so, let’s talk – please contact me for an exploratory chat.