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My Homeward Bound Journey: The Beginning by Cathy Sorbara.

A little over four months ago, was the annual general meeting CamAWiSE, my first event acting as Chair. I listened to a talk by Dr. Deborah Pardo, a population modeller from the British Antarctic Survey, who was part of Homeward Bound’s maiden voyage to Antarctica last year. I heard her talk with such passion and clarity about Homeward Bound’s mission and how it has changed her life that I knew immediately that I needed to be part of this story.

Homeward Bound, she said, is a groundbreaking leadership, strategic and science initiative, and outreach for women, set against the backdrop of Antarctica.

The initiative, turned global movement, aims to heighten the influence and impact of women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet.

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Deborah Pardo

When it launched in 2016, Homeward Bound gathered the first 76 of a targeted 1,000 women from around the world, all with critical science backgrounds, to undertake a year-long state-of-the-art program to develop their leadership and strategic capabilities, using science to build conviction around the importance of their voices. The inaugural program culminated in the largest-ever female expedition to Antarctica, in December 2016, with a focus on the leadership of women and the state of the world.

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Where do I sign up? I asked her following her talk. Serendipitously, the applications for the 2018 voyage were due three days later.

I rushed home and cleared my schedule for the weekend. I started to scroll through the online application and with each question my inner critic was pleading for me to quit. The questions ranged from Why are you suitable for Homeward Bound? To Given your science background, how do you think your leadership could influence policy and decision making? I even had to create a 2-minute elevator pitch and upload it to YouTube for their assessment.

I searched through last years’ participant videos and felt completely out of my league. These women were true leaders, leading inspirational lives. They were professors, heads of research organizations and environmental conservationists.

I, on the other hand, was a biochemist by training, I did my Ph.D. in Medical Life Science in Munich Germany and following my graduate studies, I stepped away from research. I never considered myself a leader and found the label very intimating.

Then there was the biggest catch. One of the project’s objectives is to be 100% self-funded, so not ‘not-for-profit’ and not ‘for-profit’. All women must contribute $16 000 USD. This covers the cost of being on the ship for 21 nights, hotel accommodation, faculty meetings, administration and operational contributions. On top of this, I would still need to pay for flights to our departure point at Ushuaia, Argentina.

I scrolled seemingly hundreds of times through the application and last years’ participant list, slowly talking myself out of applying. Then I saw a paragraph at the very of the application in BOLD. It said, We know women tend to only apply to positions where we feel we qualify 100%. We are here to tell you: JUST APPLY. We want women from a variety of STEM backgrounds at a variety of stages in the leadership journey. Sincerely, The Homeward Bound Team.

 

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Photo by Deborah Pardo

 

Then I started thinking of my own situation.

I am in a unique position. I am a scientist, chair of CamAWiSE and COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association, a global training platform for STEM academics looking to transition into industry. I have the ability to lead, influence and contribute to the lives of thousands of women and hopefully instill upon them confidence and encouragement to achieve their goals. My colleagues are located across Europe, Australia, India, and America, to name but a few countries. Building relationships, managing time zones and learning remote communication tools to enhance my leadership and strategical capability is not only a bonus but an absolute necessity for me to be successful in my current role and make a difference in the lives of others. I bring with me the voice of early career scientist that I counsel daily and know first hand their struggles, fears and dreams that need be heard in order to create policies to shape the future of our planet.

 

In particular, self-doubt within female PhDs is incredibly strong and inhibiting. I joined Homeward Bound to prove to those graduates that we can all be leaders and that leadership comes in many forms and from many fields.

Fryxellsee, Antarctica, Blue Ice, Lake, Mountains

To me, leadership is about finding out who you are as a person and using your gifts, your own unique attributes, to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. Leaders do not create a vision on their own but bring together the best team of individuals that together can achieve greatness. When a great leader steps down or moves on, the team not only remains strong but can thrive due to the lasting impression of that leader and confidence she instilled upon.

Homeward Bound is definitely outside my comfort zone, which is why I am even more driven to do it.

Two weeks after submitting my application, I received the congratulatory email that I was selected out of the hundreds of women across the globe that had applied. We will be stronger together!

If you would like to support my journey, please see my crowdfunding page here: https://igg.me/at/fb1KLsOodu8

 

 

Book now! Moving from Diversity to inclusion with Dawn Bonfield, MBE.

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Homeward Bound to Antarctica: Dr Deborah Pardo – by Raheela Rehman

Setting sail from Argentina, 76 women from 16 countries capped off 2016 with a 20-day voyage to Antarctica. This made the BBC news front page story; “Largest all-women expedition heads to Antarctica”. Homeward Bound, an Australian programme, is the brainchild of Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas and Ms Fabian Dattner. It aims to place women, with a science background, firmly on the global map to influence “policy and decision making as it shapes our planet”. The Homeward Bound voyage in parallel with lectures and leadership workshops, took its very first women to observe the effect of climate change close up.

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I thought I knew what Dr Deborah Pardo was about to present at Lucy Cavendish College. I expected a presentation about; her participation in Homeward Bound, her climate observations at Antarctica, how her research slotted into the programme’s objectives and to inspire the audience to push their boundaries. Yes, Deborah hit all four, but her unexpected “contagious optimism” set the room alight. She took our hands, pulled us into her world and we took our personal journey through her experience.

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Deborah’s professional roles took her from France (her home) to Sweden and most recently to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge, UK. Her research focus at BAS was on the demography and understanding the drop in the populations of three Albatross species (Wandering, Grey-headed, and Black-browed). She monitored the birds by tagging them with tracking devices and processed the extracted data using extensive computer modelling. During this time Deborah trained two PhD students and she also took maternity leave to have her son. A guilt-ridden 10 months followed as she was unable to provide full focus on both her research and family life. As a driven scientist she found it difficult being away from her work, but with no family support in the UK, the time away led to personal reflection on her work-life balance.

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She questioned the reach of her research papers. In the bigger picture, what impact would they have globally to help the Albatross species? The next step came naturally; intrinsic goals would lead to satisfaction and play as a catalyst for happiness. These goals included improving the environment and reducing consumption. The common denominator to create this global wave required half the population to engage, and that was to empower women to take a lead.

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In developing countries, women are the carers for their families, their children and the old. They hold a “quiet knowledge”, which glues the family together. Along with this central role, at times of crisis women are also the most affected – Deborah cited the Bangladesh floods of 1991, where 90% of those killed were women.

But it was also this “quiet knowledge” that women used in Western Africa, where Water Hyacinth had polluted the waterways. This removed the oxygen from the water, suffocating the fish and impeding the movement of boats. This halted trade and fishing for the local fishermen. The women removed the weed, using them to make ropes that they entrepreneurially traded, whilst freeing the waterways. Deborah explained that women work close to the ground and they are more aware and proactive to combating climate change.

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She also pointed out the stark figures of women globally in positions of leadership:

  • Research | 28%
  • Politics | 27%
  • Business | 20%
  • Medical doctors| 16%

Leadership takes many forms and not just being the CEO. The knowledge within the person is the formative contributor to leadership and success. As a scientist, Dr Deborah Pardo followed her professional path, with rigorous evidence-based decision-making. As a female scientist, Dr Pardo believes that leadership decisions are taken collectively as a team, which is a key leadership capability. The economic case shows that when senior leadership is composed of greater diversity, the skills that women bring to the table strengthen the organisational performance.

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Prior to the journey, a year-long preparation involving; online training and psychological tests measuring the participants’ lifestyle were taken. She was also required to raise $16k (US dollars). Deborah rose to the challenge. One of the sponsors was the parent of a school child. Deborah was required to provide an educational video for the school in return for the sponsorship. She will also work with the school for three months.

Why Antarctica? Antarctica is an iconic symbol of the human impact on the world and grabs the attention of the media. The participants travelled by ship overnight to different locations, in the mornings after breakfast they went on land and returned for training in the afternoon.

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One of the lessons learnt from her Homeward Bound journey, was to question; “What can I really achieve?” Within a network, Deborah is in a stronger position to instigate, maintain and follow through for change. She will now act as a mentor to the next set of bright women who take up the challenge, including Catherine Sorbara, new Chair of CamAWISE.

By Raheela Rehman

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