Every year since 2016, a cruise ship departs Ushuaia, Argentina – the world’s southernmost town – and sets sail for Antarctica.
This, on its own, isn’t all that remarkable. After all, scores of cruise ships set sail for Antarctica from Ushuaia most weeks. What’s remarkable about this particular ship is its passengers: they’re all women. More specifically, all women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and medicine (STEMM); all women with the potential to become leaders in their respective fields.
The ultimate goal? To equip 1000 women in STEMM with the skills needed to lead, influence and contribute to policy and decision-making for the future of the planet, over the course of 10 years.
The project is called Homeward Bound, and is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Fabian Dattner; Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division; Dr. Justine Shaw, an Antarctic Conservation Biologist; and Assoc. Prof. Mary-Anne Lea, an Antarctic Marine Biologist. “Mother nature needs her daughters,” Dattner said before the inaugural (and world-first) expedition in 2016. “So where are they? Where are their voices? What are they saying? What is their contribution? Women’s gift to the world is not that we lead as individuals, but that we collaborate for the greater good.”
The 2020 edition of Homeward Bound is set to depart Ushuaia in November, and will entail a 20-day journey that blends a comprehensive on-board professional leadership program with the sights, sounds and real-life science of an excursion to Antarctica. But before that, there’s a rigorous 12-month online program for participants to get through.
For our Brisbane-based cutomer, Natalie Meiklejohn (pictured below), who’s currently halfway through an honours degree in ecology and has been accepted into Homeward Bound 2020, the project will arm her with the tools she needs to maximise her impact in the STEMM space. “My generation is going to have to face challenges that have never even been seen before, and we’re going to need better leadership,” she says. “[Young women] don't often have access to these kinds of corporate leadership programs, so to be involved in a program that's specifically targeted at women is such an incredible opportunity.”
According to Homeward Bound, only 10-20% of women make it to senior decision-making roles or professional-level academia despite women comprising some 60% of university graduates. The role of the project is to address that imbalance, and provide opportunities to women who otherwise may have missed out.
“We need strong and compassionate leadership, and I want to learn how to do that and how to be that,” says Natalie. “The world is really waking up to the fact that having one specific type of person running the show is not really working. You can’t create a world for all different types of people if all those different types of people aren’t involved in the decision making.”
And as far as Antarctica goes, Natalie thinks it’s the perfect place for a women-only leadership expedition to take place. “It's literally been referred to as not a place for women,” she says. “It's about breaking down those barriers of what women have forever been told in regards to what we should and shouldn't do.”
Homeward Bound is due to set sail for Antarctica in November 2020. Stay tuned for more stories about Natalie and her progress through the course over the coming months by following her Facebook Page here.