[email protected] Interview
Interview with Jason Bryan
“Ensure you take enjoyment from the journey, work hard and hold on to people at the core of your business. .” – Jason Bryan
Today we feature Jason Bryan, the founder at Butterfly Books. We hear their story in their own words, their successes, their challenges and their insights.
Let’s start by getting to know you. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what you do?
I am a children’s author and co-founder of Butterfly Books, an independent publishing house that produces books for kids aged 4 to 7 years old that endeavours to tackle gender misconceptions about careers, right at the grassroots.
A great introduction and start to this interview. Can you please tell us, how did you start, from what age, and what made you decide to change direction and start?
It was my sister, Kerrine Bryan – an award winning engineer and STEM ambassador – who originally came up with the concept of setting up an independent publisher of children’s books with the ultimate aim of re-writing the narratives told to children that can often limit and dictate their dreams.
She has made quite a name for herself in promoting gender diversity in STEM industries as well as addressing common misconceptions about what constitutes ‘a man’s job’ and ‘a woman’s job’, particularly in the eyes of school-aged children.
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 song writing 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.
Thank you for that insight. So can you tell us…What does your business do and where is your company based?
The butterfly is a symbol of transformation and enterprise. With Butterfly Books, beyond just entertaining children at bedtime, we hope that these will eventually be used as a teaching resource in multiple schools so that as many children as possible are exposed to the books, showing them the opportunities available to them and eventually helping to close skills gaps and reduce gender bias across many professions.
In January 2020 we announced our work with the NHS in dismantling gender misconceptions about men in nursing with a children’s picture book entitled My Daddy Is A Nurse. There is a significant deficit in the number of nurses required to service the NHS.
In 2019, the NHS launched an advertising campaign to address the skills gap by targeting young men to consider pursuing a career in nursing. It depicted men undertaking varied roles in nursing – from delivering babies to treating young victims of violent street crimes, be that in UK hospitals or at makeshift medical centres in war zones abroad.
Then in March 2020, we released the 7th book in our series – a collaboration with the London Fire Brigade called My Mummy Is A Firefighter.
LFB’s previous commissioner Dany Cotton had talked about sexist misconceptions on Good Morning Britain the previous year, debating why terms like ‘fireman’ can discourage women from joining the fire brigade.
The book identifies a further need to address the issue before misconceptions develop and manifest in the real world, resulting in further gender disparities within industry.
We previously launched My Mummy Is A Soldier – a collaboration with the British Army. The book aims to tackle gender diversity issues and misconceptions about Army jobs at the grassroots and showcase the diversity of careers females undertake within the organisation – everything from medic to dog handler, lawyer to pilot.
My Mummy Is A Scientist, My Mummy Is An Engineer, My Mummy Is A Farmer and My Mummy Is A Plumber are among a number of titles we have also created.
This year (March 2021), we launched our latest book, My Mummy Is A Footballer, on International Women’s Day.
What’s the story behind your success? What led to your aha moment? how did you get to where you are now?
I have learnt that nothing comes easy, and persistence is key, both in family and work life. 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.
My life journey so far has been more a winding road rather than a straightforward path towards a solid goal.
I had my first child at only 19. Although it wasn’t planned, the prospect of parenthood was something I embraced with a lot of family support. It did present some challenges, especially as I was in my second year of study at university. However, becoming a parent made me even more determined to succeed. Higher education unlocks the doors to better job opportunities.
My aim, then, was to simply earn as much as I could, doing something I at least had the tolerance for, in order to start providing for my young family.
Becoming a parent shifts your idea of true responsibility.
You are moved from quite a selfish place to then realising that you are the one who must mould and nurture this child to be the best person they can possibly be. In my opinion, children provide a drive that cannot be replicated by anything else. It is the biggest wakeup call ever.
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.
Thank you for sharing that. What’s been your life’s biggest lesson so far?
Whilst I didn’t have any clear cut career aspirations, prior to children and university, I wanted to make music and be able make a living out of it. Instead, with my new found responsibilities and my life drastically changing course, I got into support work with young offenders and teaching at a college for adults with learning disabilities in Telford.
This in itself was challenging – I undertook gruelling 22-hour shifts and often entailed teaching in the day, occasionally taking classes myself and travelling a lot between different units where support was needed. These shifts often involved ‘sleep-ins’.
Given that Telford was outside of my home city of Birmingham, I would try to roll a few days work into one long on-and-off shift to save the constant travelling. It did mean often spending days away from home. But it also meant I could really capitalise on my earnings.
I supplemented this work with shifts working at retailer Selfridges – a job that I had retained on the side whilst studying.
Despite the demanding shifts, work life balance was achievable. It meant I could often be available during the week to care for the baby and, as I was able to choose my working hours for the council, I had the flexibility to organise my personal time around these shifts.
Getting a mortgage though meant that I needed more stability than shift work could offer. So I went into Payroll, earning less but getting more job and financial security. It was here that I took an interest in finance and pursued a career as a financial analyst.
This was miles away from my more original and creative aspirations of working in music. Still – the idea that if you do something that you love, you will never have to ‘work’ a day in your life again – is something in which I truly believe. And, in some ways, I believe that I am halfway towards achieving this goal with Butterfly Books.
Never let thoughts stunt action. It may not work out, but until you take that action, you will never know.
If you were to go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
The same advice I give to my two school aged girls: pursue something you are passionate about. I do my best to ensure that they know about opportunities and jobs that are not gender specific.
But the most important thing I try to encourage? That they pursue things that they enjoy over anything else. Although I try to make sure that their eyes are open to what would stereotypically be male, I don’t make them shy away from what would stereotypically be female either.
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.
We’re nearly halfway through our interview so it’s a great time to ask how does your business run. What three tools make your business run better?
Three tools and services have been vital to the running of our business.
Firstly, having an illustrator. We were blessed to already have a relationship with an illustrator who has an incredible attention to detail and unique illustration skills. This is definitely an aspect which makes our business run better, both stylistically and for consistency.
Secondly, having a great editor ensures our content is grammatically on point.
They cast the critical eye before our work is made public. It’s important to have the kind of objectivity. Sometimes, you can be too close and involved in your work to see the bigger picture.
Thirdly, investing in PR has been integral to our gradual success. ASP PR act as an extension of our team, driving our content forward within the public space. Prior to this we tried to run this aspect in house but with very little traction and very little results. This just re-affirms the fact that this service is important in regards to the fluency of the business.
What do you know now that you wished you had known before?
Never let thoughts stunt action. It may not work out, but until you take that action, you will never know.
What has been your greatest or proudest achievement or moment?
I always feel the greatest achievements are when I’m pushed outside of my comfort zone! Once, I had to pitch the business as part of a competition in front of a group of investors and fellow entrepreneurs. I’m not a nervous speaker, but public speaking has always been something that lies outside of that comfort zone.
What future life goals do you want to achieve and why?
Sustained happiness. For me this can be achieved on the journey – it does not necessarily always have to be the product of a successful outcome. I wish to keep pushing myself and trying to take my life in new directions. That in itself is an achievement.
To finish our inspire questions…”We believe that sharing inspiring words can inspire others.” If there was one positive thing you would say to someone to inspire and empower them what would it be and why?
Ensure you take enjoyment from the journey, work hard and hold on to people at the core of your business.
“Thank you it has been great learning more about your founder story and Butterfly Books”
To learn more about Butterfly Books Visit www.butterflybooks.co.uk
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