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.
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.
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.
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.
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