“What if balancing the gender voice at the leadership table was one of the most effective ways to influence environmental sustainability?”
That is the very first tweet sent out to the world by the all-female Antarctica expedition organization known as Homeward Bound. In one sentence, they have perfectly summed up their two-fold mission that is catching not only the science community but also the media’s attention worldwide.
Homeward Bound is set to bring together some of the world’s most brilliant minds in science in order to elevate the role of women in leadership globally, particularly in the field of science, as well as place emphasis on what is happening to the environment in Antarctica in order to gain better insight into what needs to be done to tackle climate change around the world.
This expedition will span 90 days at the end of 2016, departing from the tip of South America in December, where a team of 78 scientific researchers will travel together as part of a 10 year initiative which hopes to reach and engage 1000 women in the science field. This expedition will also be filmed and made into a documentary which will no doubt spark the imaginations and inspire many more women and girls further afield than in just the STEM industries.
The expedition will be led by Order of Australia medallist Greg Mortimer who has led more than 80 expeditions to the Antarctic. And there are already a number of well-known women in the sciences who are supporting this historic trip such as Primatologist and environmental activist Dr. Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle who is a marine ecologist and celebrated activist filmed by James Cameron in Mission Blue, as well as renowned Australian leadership expert Fabian Dattner who is the woman behind the whole initiative.
And just everyone knows, the 78 women (a number of which hold PhDs) who have been chosen from applications and video entries are no novices to the world of science. Spanning a range of countries including Canada, Australia, France, Germany, UK, US, Norway, New Zealand and South Africa, each of these badass scientists cover a number of different focuses in their everyday work including x-ray crystallography, the effect of cold stress on plants, native termite digestion for biofuel applications and developing cures for neurotrauma.
A crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the expedition created by a group of Australian women in the crew (it costs roughly $40,000 USD per person) says they hope the research Homeward Bound embarks on and the skills they will acquire will allow the next generation of girls to take up leadership positions as well as be inspired to enter one of the STEM fields.
“It has been demonstrated that diverse teams with an equal gender balance are more efficient, take more risks and solve problems more effectively. Humanity needs all the creativity, brain power and problem solving ability we can muster if we are to solve the problems the world faces. It is therefore critical that women take an equal place at the highest levels of leadership, particularly in science,” says the campaign page.
“However, while approximately equivalent numbers of women and men start careers in science, by the time careers progress to professorial level there is profound gender inequality, with women making up only 10% of top level scientists.”
Many of the women involved are being featured in various media reports around the world, including Dr Samantha Hall of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute and Dr Amanda Davies, of Curtin’s School of Built Environment, who both told PerthNow.com.au that the most pressing concerns for scientists at the moment is climate change.
“Antarctica is the first indicator of things going wrong, so it’s really important to have a good understanding of what’s happening there,” said Dr. Davies.
They also understand the untapped potential of women in the science world and hope their expedition will make a great statement on a global scale.
“To me it’s not about (men versus women), it’s about letting younger girls know that if they want to be anything, they can. If they want to go to space, they can. They shouldn’t have to fear anything because of their gender,” said Dr. Hall, who decided to quit her business career and go back to university to study science after living in Thailand and viewing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.
One of three UK women, Dr Deborah Pardo from Cambridge who works for the British Antarctic Survey, said there are 12 projects divided into smaller groups, where each woman will bring their expertise to come up with solutions to the climate change problem they can present to the world.
“Mine is about how gender equality can help influence environmental policies, because it has been proven that women in developing countries particularly, are more affected by climate change than men, and also more reactive and prone to change than men,” she told Cambridge-News.co.uk.
Like many of the women involved, Dr. Pardo is a mom, and wants to use her influence to break down gender stereotypes about women in science.
“I applied to this thing because I am at a critical time in my career; I just became a mum so I am very aware and militant for the challenges women are facing. I think creating a network like this is really going to help each of us achieve higher goals,” she said.
In a video from November 2014 where Homeward Bound founder Fabian Dattner explains the heart of the mission, imploring women to apply for the expedition, she says the issue of gender equality in global leadership, much like climate change itself, has reached a tipping point.
“We want to elevate the role of women in leadership in the world, and we believe it has reached crisis point that they are so underrepresented in the decisions that are being made,” she said, while also adding women will gain confidence by employing the “lean in” philosophy when it comes to finding opportunities.
While world leaders continue to hammer out and argue over global policies that could affect our world in future years, and others sadly continue to even deny the existence of climate change at our collective peril, these women are set to sail literally and figuratively ahead of the pack in determining effective measures that could save the planet.
“Homeward Bound is a metaphor for the planet, and our responsibility for our ‘home’; a link to the care women bring to living spaces, a sense that home includes the whole planet, and at its most fragile, the remote and wild Southern Ocean; Antarctica as one of the fastest changing regions on our planet,” says the description of the mission on the Homeward Bound website.
As the 78 women gear up to set sail from Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago on 2 December 2016, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the ‘End of the World’ and the gateway to Antarctica, we eagerly anticipate the affect they will have on the current state of female leadership in global decision-making, as well as climate change measures backed up by indisputable data.